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Monthly October 2016
Short Story: Apple Tree Dreams by Lisamarie Lamb

Her boy had always wanted a treehouse, and she had always told him no. She had always said it was too dangerous, that he would fall and hurt himself or stab himself with a splinter. He would get dirty.

Better to sit inside with a book. Better to stay indoors and do colouring. Better. Much better.

And so the boy did sit inside with a book. He did stay indoors and do colouring. He did these things and he stared out of the window at the apple tree that rose up and out at the bottom of the garden. He imagined a treehouse embraced within its branches, held there, safe, secure, a secret place just for him to go. He dreamed about that imaginary treehouse, and pretended as he sat on the rug in the sunlit living room that he was bathing in the glow of the outside as it filtered through the leaves of the apple tree and fell upon his face in patches of yellow warmth.

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One day, as he ate an apple for lunch and gazed, ever more keenly at the tree, he had an idea. His mother had told him that if he were to swallow a pip, an apple tree might grow within him. He did not want that, could not imagine trying it. But what if he could entice a tree to grow indoors? Surely if a tree could grow in a boy’s stomach… And there was enough sunshine creeping in, and he could water it himself, he was sure he knew how.

That was all that was needed, wasn’t it?

And perhaps it was. That, and a little bit of faith.

The boy finished his apple and searched for the perfect spot, hunting behind the sofa, under the armchair, swishing back the curtains to find a good planting place. Eventually he found it. Between the wall and the bookshelf there was a tiny gap, so small that not even the boy’s thin fingers could fit. But the apple pip could.

He poked the pip through the gap, letting it fall where it would, pleased to see that the shaft of sunlight that reached in through the tall glass doors hit the spot he had chosen. It was perfect.

He would water it every day.

He would look after it.

And when it was fully grown, he would build a treehouse.

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The boy slept peacefully that night, his plans growing inside his head.

In the morning he rushed to his indoor garden and found that nothing had changed. He could still see the seed lying where he had left it, and although it was damp from the glass of water he had poured over it when his mother wasn’t looking, it was still just an apple pip.

Despite his disappointment, the boy was sure of his plan, and he watered it once more, and left it alone to become the tree he knew it could be.

Years passed. The boy, who loved his mother to the ends of the earth, resented her as well. He was a good boy, a charming boy, polite and courteous, but he was alone. He had no friends because friends might lead him astray. He had no fun because fun might be dangerous. He sometimes wished that he was someone else’s son, although he hated himself when he thought it. He wished that he was allowed to feel pain and fall over and graze his knees.

One of his sad little wishes did come true. He did feel pain. Small at first, just a niggling little bite in his bones. He said nothing. But as the months went on and he neared his tenth birthday, his mother finally noticed that something was wrong. Her boy was limping, he was thin, he was pale and dark-eyed, and everything was an effort for him these days.

The doctor told them the news that they were both expecting to hear. Still, it was a blow, and there wasn’t much time.

“I’ll build you your treehouse,” said his mother, her voice tight with tears, her throat aching, her heart in pieces. “I’ll make sure you have it before-” She did not finish. She couldn’t. The boy understood and nodded and held her tight, comforting her although he was the one who was dying.

When the boy did die, it was as peaceful as it could be, and his mother was there when it happened.

The treehouse was not finished.

In the months that followed, as she tried to put her life back together and live as best she could once more, she vowed that she would finish the job she had started, but every time she ventured outside and looked up at the shaggy boards strewn haphazardly across the strong branches, she could only fall to her knees and sob at the life that had been taken from her.

She regretted so much.

She should have, could have, would have been a better mother, if only she had known.

And instead of finishing the treehouse, she crawled back inside and lay down in a patch of sunlight in the living room and cried until she was weak and empty. And then she slept, an exhausted, dreamless sleep that did nothing for her except to pass the time without her boy.

When she awoke after not long enough, the sun had gone. It was not yet night, but it was dark in the living room, dark and cool. She stretched out in that blissful moment of forgetfulness and enjoyed the fresh, light feeling of freedom that fell onto her face though the… Through the what?

She opened her eyes and memories flew at her, batting at her, slapping at her with their full force. But for once she barely noticed. Because above her and around her and rising up through the ceiling and as far beyond that as she could see was an apple tree. It emerged from behind the bookcase that had been against the same wall for as long as she could remember, and it twirled its thick trunk outwards, twisting it up at an angle, and then it had just kept growing.

How long had she slept for?

She glanced at the clock but it didn’t answer any questions. It tick-tocked forwards but the numbers meant nothing. All that she cared about was the tree, watered with her grieving tears and brought to life in the shadow of death.

Now that she had a tree in her house, she wondered what she ought to do with it. She couldn’t see the top of it, but she realised that she wanted to, needed to, find out how far it had grown in the short time it had had. A miracle, a real, actual miracle, had occurred in her own home, and it had lightened her poor, splintered heart.

She raced up the stairs, taking them one, two, three at a time, giant strides that she didn’t know she was capable of, and at the top she stood on the shaded landing and stared up at the tree that poked through the floor below her and the ceiling above her. She needed to get higher. She had to find the top, find the leaves, find the treasure that was there, that had to be there.

And so she placed one slippered foot against the smooth grey bark and raised her arms to grasp the lowest branches. They shook and the leaves rustled, a pleasant, sunny sound. Bright red apples shone as they bobbed up and down.

She climbed. It reminded her of a time she had forgotten, a time on her own childhood when her mother had let her run loose, let her run free, let her climb trees and play in the meadow and come home for a picnic tea on the lawn.

She felt young. A little girl. And the little girl that she had become clambered up the tree, grinning, brushing leaves from her hair, laughing at a startled sparrow that was resting on a thin twig, reaching out to touch it but missing as it launched itself into the air.

Blue, blue sky and white, white clouds were above her now, and the tree, of course. It was still rising up, there was still more to climb.

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And climb she did, this little girl in her dirty dungarees and cracked creamy trainers. Her long plaits hung down her back, tangled with twigs and specked with mud. Her gap-toothed smile was huge, and it was real.

It was all real.

In the thick branches above her there was a shape. Large and flat and square. A platform. No, more than a platform. A treehouse. Of course. What else would it be up there, up here, at the top, with a view over the world?

But how to get up into it? She grabbed at the edges of the opening, and tried to pull herself up, but the angle was strange and she almost fell.

Almost.

But not quite.

A small hand slid over the edge and held hers. The sensation was known, so familiar that the woman – the girl – gasped and gripped tightly, so as never to have to let go again.

Her boy leaned over the edge and smiled down at her. He pulled her up and there they were, both sitting in his treehouse. Their treehouse now.

And together they looked out over the world and planned their adventures in the eternal sunshine.

Woman Jailed for Writing Short Story

That’s a terrifying headline. And when we delve deeper into the story, we discover that not only is it true – the woman really was jailed for six years for writing a short story – but that the story was, in fact, unpublished.

The term ‘thought police’ springs immediately to mind.

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This has happened in Iran, and the story concerns the practice of stoning, a form of Iranian execution, most usually used on those who commit adultery. The writer is called Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee, and she is, amongst other things, a human rights activist. The story is about a young Iranian woman who sees a film entitled The Stoning of Soraya M (made in 2008, this film is based on a true story). The story’s character becomes enraged about what she has seen; so much so that she burns a copy of the Quran.

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When the story was found, the charges levelled against Iraee included ‘insulting Islamic sanctities’ and ‘spreading propaganda against the system’. It sounds more and more like Orwell’s 1984 than ever – Big Brother was, indeed, watching. Not only this, but her husband, Arash Sadeghi, has been sentenced to 15 years on the same propaganda charge as well as ‘gathering and colluding against national security’. He has, reports say, been tortured in prison.

Although the full facts are, perhaps, not known to us, the idea that someone could be imprisoned – and, ironically, potentially executed – for using their imagination is a worrying one. The story was not even published, and was found during a raid of Iraee’s home.

Words are indeed powerful.

Reasons to Read Every Day

The art of relaxing to read a good book is in danger of becoming lost to the mists of time. Can you imagine, decades from now, when such a pastime is studied by historians much as we look at some of the weird and wonderful things our ancestors did? The idea that future humans will smile and shake their heads at our strange fascination with ink on dead trees is something that fills me with dread.

reading as a pastime

So let’s not lose this art. Let’s not forget the printed word in amongst our TV screens, tablets, smartphones and e-Readers. Let’s remember why reading is good for us, and keep on doing it.

  • With reading, the more you do it the better you get. This means that even the most reluctant of readers will have a light bulb moment and discover that, actually, reading is a pretty incredible thing. You just have to stick with it.
  • Reading is great exercise for our brains. It may seem simple, but it’s actually really rather complex, and stimulates our brains in a good way, unlike watching TV which is a much more passive pastime. Reading even builds new connections within the brain – it literally makes us more clever.

reading makes us clever

  • Finding it hard to concentrate at work or school? Read more. Reading improves our levels of concentration, and reading regularly gives us the ability to concentrate for longer and longer.
  • Reading teaches us stuff. Whether you enjoy fiction or non-fiction, there is always something to learn within the pages of a book. You can find out more about other people, places, religions, traditions, politics, and much, much more.
  • Reading also improves our vocabulary. Every time you read you are strengthening your ability to remember new words, and soon you’ll be using them in context without even thinking about it.
  • Imagination is essential no matter what age you are. It helps you to create more in life, and could even get your career progression moving faster. Reading is all about imagination. After all, you’re basically creating everything for yourself – the words won’t do that by themselves.

Reading Gives Us Imagination

  • When you run out of battery or haven’t got a signal you’ll be glad of a good old fashioned paperback. It’s probably the cheapest form of entertainment (if you break it down hour by hour) around. Plus it’s totally portable. Bonus.
  • Reading relaxes the body and mind. It helps us have some quiet time. Most of our lives are taken up with bright screens, flashing lights, and loud noises. And that takes its toll on us – it’s a stressful situation to be in on a permanent basis. That’s why taking the time to read each day can calm us down and put us in a better frame of mind.

Relaxing With A Good Book

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My pricing guidlines

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Type of Work

£

Magazine Writing & research per 1000 400
Magazine Editor per day 250
Magazine Sub-editing per 1000 120
Magazine Fact checking per day 200
Newspaper (regional) Writing & research per 1000 220
Newspaper (regional) Sub-editing per 1000 95
Newspaper (regional) Fact checking per day 200
Newspaper (national) Writing & research per 1000 700
Newspaper (national) Sub-editing per 1000 450
Newspaper (national) Fact checking per day 200
Online/digital media Writing & research per 1000 180
Online/digital media Sub-editing per 1000 95
Online/digital media Fact checking per day 200

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Please contact me using the information below; I’d love to hear from you.

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07710 611592

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WHAT I CAN DO

Blog Writing

A blog is an essential tool in ensuring your website is seen. I can create regular blog posts that will move you up the rankings and give you a better placement within your industry.

Ghost Writing

Have you ever wanted to write a novel, memoir or short story but don’t have the time? Do you have the ideas, but the words don’t flow? I can help. Contact me for a confidential chat.

Articles

I am happy to carry out research, conduct interviews, and write/edit articles of any length. Contact me for more information about my rates and services.

Web Content

From your home page to your about me details and everything in between, you want a website that has snappy, interesting, high quality content. Let me create it for you.

Sales Letters

If you have a product that you want others to know about, you need a sales letter that is going to get attention – and keep it. I can write that letter for you.

Emails

Are you thinking of starting an email campaign but don’t know what to include? Or perhaps you want to send a special email to that special someone, but you can’t think of the right words. Contact me and we can discuss exactly what I can do to help.

Product Descriptions

Selling products online can be an excellent way of making a business, but if your products sound boring and your descriptions are dull, no one will want them. I’ve written thousands of products descriptions, and I can make your products shine.

Copy Editing & Proofreading

Have you written something that needs that extra level of checking? With my years of experience I can proofread or copy edit your work so that it’s the best it can be.

Social Media Management & Digital Marketing

Getting your digital marketing and social media strategy right is essential. I can provide and implement a social media marketing plan that works for you. Contact me to find out more.

About MeAbout Me

I'm a content writer

Excellent work by Lisamarie, on time, great quality and constant communication. Would not hesitate to recommend and in fact use again as soon as opportunity arises.

Andreas K
Andreas K

Lisamarie was great to work with - she did a fantastic job that completely met the brief and was delivered before the deadline.

Helena W
Helena W

Quick and brilliant, nailed the brief! Will work with her all the time 🙂

Roshni S
Roshni S

Fantastic work A++++

Rob C
Rob C

It was a pleasure to work with Lisamarie, she adjusted to our workflow and process with ease and completed work quickly and effectively.

Geoff J
Geoff J

Lisamarie is a very good writer and is very easy to work with. She reacted well to my guidance and provided me with content I'm very happy to use. I look forward to working with her again soon.

Ola F
Ola F

Great work from Lisamarie, articles are exactly what we wanted

Matthew E
Matthew E

Brilliant work from Lisamarie. I would definitely retain her again and recommend her to others.

Brad B
Brad B

REVIEWS

I started writing in my late teens but it was only with the birth of my daughter that I decided to write more seriously, with the aim of publication. Since that decision in 2010, I have had over 40 short stories published in anthologies and magazines.

Find out more about my publications on my Amazon Author Page.

I am the features and online editor for insideKENT and insideSUSSEX magazines.

I am also a freelance writer who has ghost-written hundreds of blog posts, articles, reviews, fiction, and more.

I live with my husband, daughter, and a cat called Cheryl in the Kent countryside next door to a field full of horses.

http://www.facebook.com/lisamarielambwriter

http://www.twitter.com/lisamarie20010

MY STORY

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Exercise For Mental Health

The idea of exercise is always a positive one. The reality, of course, is often far different. By the time we get home from work we’re often exhausted or too busy to do any meaningful exercise. And it’s not just in the evenings that we have trouble getting it done – exercise is the thing that most often falls to the bottom of the to do list.

Yet knowing how important it is and how it can actively improve your mental health might be what makes the difference and gives you the impetus to do just half an hour or so of good exercise each day. Read on to find out just what it is about working out that keep your mental health positive.

mental health

Stress Relief for Better Mental Health

Studies have shown that exercising is good for reducing your stress levels. Stress can take a terrible toll on your mental health, and everyone is stressed to some degree. Some stresses might be small, easily dealt with, short term problems, and these are completely normal.

Others, however, might be much more dangerous. Long term – chronic – stress can cause many different health issues including:

  • Heart disease
  • Heart attacks
  • High blood pressure
  • Stroke
  • Organ failure
  • Ulcers

But it’s not just physical problems that long term stress will cause. Your mental health will suffer too. You could develop depression or anxiety, for example. So ideally you will want to reduce your stress as much as possible, and if you can do it without taking medication then all the better.

Exercise is a great way to relieve stress. When you are concentrating on working out, playing sports, taking a brisk walk, or however else you want to exercise, you aren’t thinking of the problems that are causing you stress. Even if it’s just for a little while, your work issues, relationships, money worries, even your health situation, can be forgotten, and if you can do that, your stress levels will reduce.

Better Social Life

Loneliness is a condition that is bad for your mental health if it goes on too long (although a little ‘me time’ every now and then can actually help you feel better). If you join a gym or go to a regular exercise class, or if you go running and get to see other people, for example, you can alleviate that loneliness for a little while.

Even for the most introverted of people, this brief moment of connectivity could be enough to make your loneliness disappear.

mental health

Anger Control

Some people have a problem controlling their anger, and this can make them become stressed which, as mentioned above, has a lot of problems associated with it. It can also cause problems with relationships, leading to loneliness, and it can make work difficult.

A good exercise regime will help to quell those feelings of anger, keeping them under control and allowing you an outlet for your emotions. When you get back to ‘real life’ you will feel happier, healthier, and find it easier to let things go rather than become angry over small issues.

If you find that your anger issues are more deep seated and exercise helps but only temporarily, then seeking expert advice is always the best course of action – your life is important and you need to be happy for as much of it as possible.

Conclusion

Exercise is something that we should all try to incorporate into our lives when we can. It might not be every day, it might not even be a regular occurrence to begin with, but getting started in the most important step. After that, as with anything, the more you practice the better you will get and the better it will feel.

Is Your Workplace Toxic?

Work takes up a huge amount of every day, so it makes sense that it should be a good place to be – you should enjoy your work, and your workplace, otherwise every other aspect of your life is going to be affected. You might even develop mental illnesses such as depression and stress, or your unhappiness might manifest in physical ways; heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, ulcers, and much more can all come about from working somewhere unpleasant.

Not enjoying your job is one thing, but what if you are actually working in a toxic workplace? This is when the situation becomes desperate, and finding a new job should be a top priority. Here are some of the signs that your workplace is making you not just unhappy, but potentially unwell.

workplace
Is your team supportive?

You Dread Going To Work

On occasion (usually on a Monday morning after a lovely weekend at home), everyone is going to ‘dread’ going to work. But is it really a dread, or is it just a feeling of preferring not to? When you actively dread heading off to your workplace in the morning, and that dread is there every single day, then there is clearly a problem. Your workplace could be a toxic one.

You should never feel this way about your job. Life is too short, and there are many opportunities out there for you; you may have to retrain or think laterally about where your skills can take you, but being happy is the main thing and that is what you really need to consider.

You Don’t Feel Appreciated

Getting feedback at work is crucial for anyone to develop and become more successful. If you never hear a word from your boss about how you are doing, or you’re always the one doing the chasing when you want some kind of critique on a project or assignment you have been doing, then you are sure to feel under-appreciated.

When this happens, you might become less productive; what’s the point in bending over backwards if no one cares that you are working hard and going the extra mile? Something that you used to think matters will now how a much lower place in your heart and mind.

That’s not right.

You should be able to love what you do, feel appreciated, and feel good about the work you are carrying out. You should be able to work in a supportive workplace. Not even being acknowledged is a bad sign and one that you shouldn’t ignore.

workplace
Workplace stress is toxic

Your Workplace Worries You Even On Days Off

When you have a day off from work, what do you do? Do you enjoy it, not think about work at all (or if you do it’s only to determine the next step and what you will start with when you get back to it), and relax? Or do you constantly worry about your job, finding it frustrating and irritating? Does it make you angry? Are you unable to wind down?

If the latter is the case for you, it’s time to get out. It’s true that work is important, but it’s not everything – you need to make time for yourself and your family and anything else you want to do. If work is taking up all of your rest time as well as your work time, something’s wrong.

Conclusion

If something feels wrong about your place of work, whether it’s something tangible or just a gut feeling, and if that place of work is making you miserable or even ill, you need to leave. Yes, that can be easier said than done, and finding a new job isn’t always easy, but if you don’t start the search then you’ll never find your next – happier – position.

DODGY DÉCOR FAILS ARE COSTING HOME SELLERS CASH INVESTING JUST £300 CAN ADD UP TO £10K ON TO YOUR HOUSE VALUE
  • Aldi teamed up with interiors star, Anna Ryder Richardson, to makeover a home in under two hours for just £300 adding an average of over £8k to the property’s value
  • One in five buyers say that hideous décor is one of the biggest turn-offs when looking for a house
  • Nearly half (44%) offered less for a property because the interior was not to their taste

New research released by Aldi has revealed that almost one in five (19%) Brits claim that dodgy décor can be one of the biggest turn-offs when house viewing. Aldi surveyed 2,000 UK home owners to celebrate their Kirkton House range, which features a choice of quality interior products at everyday amazing prices.

Following the research, Aldi challenged home interiors star, Anna Ryder Richardson, to add value to a property with a budget of only £300, and using just the Aldi Kirkton House interiors range. The three bedroom, semi-detached home in Dartford, Kent, was evaluated by three local estate agents, before and after the makeover, and the property’s value increased by up to £10,000 across each valuation* – simply thorough decluttering, furniture rearrangement and the addition of stylist interior accessories. Watch the video on https://www.aldi.co.uk/kirkton-house.

According to the survey, quick upgrades can make a big difference for 34% of home buyers who say that stylish furnishings make them more likely to buy. The kitchen came out on top, with almost three quarters (72%) stating it’s the most important room to look good during a viewing. Real estate turn-offs were dark rooms (50%), awkward layouts (36%) and overgrown gardens (32%).

After seven viewings sellers consider making changes to their home to help shift it, with desperate owners splashing out on average £900 to finally make a sale. When it comes to age, image-conscious 18-34 year olds are spending over five times more (£3,131) than the thrifty 55+’s, who on average part with just £543 to shift their property.

Home interiors star, Anna Ryder Richardson, comments: “Together with Aldi, we’ve proven that you don’t need to break the bank to spruce up your interiors and help make that sale. We spent a third of what home buyers think they need to spend and increased the property’s value by an average of over £8k! It’s easy to invest a small amount and make a big difference. Here are some tips from the makeover to try at home:

  • Define the space in each room. A beautiful woven rug can indicate how a room should be used and brighten up a space in one easy step – try placing a colourful option in the centre of the living room to create a fun colour pop like the Aldi Kirkton House flatweave rug in navy blue
  • Make sure your rooms look spacious, appealing and homely. Consider the layout of the room and whether it feels welcoming to walk into – decluttering is a must and try shuffling the furniture around to experiment with different arrangements. Aldi’s Kirkton House Adjustable Desk Lamp will help to light up any room and add a warm feel
  • For house viewers, the kitchen is key – make sure your dirty plates aren’t still in the sink and set-up table places and crockery to show viewers what your home would look like to really live in it. Aldi’s wide range of quality Kirkton House cutlery and dinnerware can help to set the scene
  • Think about the overall interior design in your house – do you have personal items on display that perhaps don’t match the décor? Take down a few personal pictures here and there for a slicker look. Aldi’s Kirkton House storage baskets will come in handy here!
  • Make first impressions count and don’t forget your hallway! Place a nice welcome mat down and tidy-up shoes lying around in the space – Aldi’s Kirkton House Designer Lounge and Hallway range has hallway-specific show stoppers from a stencilled, geometric-design mat to a fun cactus hallway doorstop
  • Make the most of your outside space and opt for bright colours for the garden – colourful, patterned cushions and garden dining ware will come to life against the organic backdrop of green grass and bright flowers. Aldi’s Kirkton House Printed PVC Tablecloth in lemon print and decorative glass balloons will look fantastic in the sunshine and spruce up any garden”

Julie Ashfield, Managing Director of Buying at Aldi, said: “As the housing market is so uncertain, we’re happy that we can offer the security of consistently low prices in the Kirkton House home range. With a choice of quality and everyday products, the range can help you upgrade your home on a budget.”

THE UK TOUR OF LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE

Lucy O’Byrne and Mark Moraghan are to join the cast of the quirky off-Broadway hit musical Little Miss Sunshine for its UK tour which begins at Churchill Theatre, Bromley on 16 May 2019.

Irish actress and singer Lucy O’Byrne will star as Sheryl, the matriarch of the eccentric Hoover family. Lucy shot to fame on The Voice (BBC) in 2015 and was the runner-up that year. Her theatre credits include Eva Peron in the Evita UK tour which ran at the Churchill Theatre in July 2018, Fantine in Les Misérables (Queen’s Theatre – West End), Maria in The Sound of Music (UK and Ireland Tour), River Woman in Therese Raquin (Park Theatre) and Tzeitel in Fiddler on the Roof (Gaiety Theatre-Dublin).

Mark Moraghan will be Grandpa (the role that won Alan Arkin an Academy award).  Mark recently appeared as Tim Richards in Emmerdale and is perhaps best known for his roles as Adrian Mortimer in Coronation Street, Owen Davis in Holby City, Ray Wyatt in Dream Team, Greg Shadwick in Brookside and Eddie Quinn in London’s Burning.

Busy Times…

It’s been a while since I last posted anything on my blog, but I do have a good reason (excuse?) for that… I have a new job.

Although freelance writing is what I love to do, it just doesn’t pay the bills, plus it has meant that I haven’t written any fiction – my favourite thing – for a year or more. So I had to find something else to do; something that would suit my lifestyle, allow me to continue to write, and (hopefully) bring in some more money. Because, let’s face it, as much as we might like to, we can’t live without it.

I joined The Good Estate Agent, and I’m now covering the Sevenoaks area. Here’s a little video of what I do:

 

How To Ensure Your Employees Feel Valued

If you have a job that you don’t feel appreciated in and you feel that no matter what you do your efforts are just not noticed, you will begin to feel as though you shouldn’t bother working so hard anymore. You will feel as though you should even look elsewhere for a job where you can work with people who will appreciate you more. If you are an employer, this is not something that you want to happen; you want your employees to stay with you and help your company grow. To do this, they need to feel valued, so here are some ways to ensure that they do.

Talk To Them

One way to ensure that your employees feel appreciated and valued is to talk to them. This can include work details, of course, but that would happen anyway – to go the extra mile you need to talk to them about themselves. Find out about their family and their hobbies away from work, where they live and what they enjoy doing. When you speak to them again, remember what they said and bring it up in conversation where possible. This will show that you listened and that you took in what was said – and, of course, that you remembered it all.

It can also be beneficial to organize days away from work where you can get to know your employees better. These team building days are great for discovering exactly what your team is really like, and what they can do, plus they’re fun and can be seen as a reward.

Praise Them

It’s all too easy to just accept that someone has done a good job and then give them something else to do without saying much (if anything) about it. However, that won’t leave them feeling very valued, and can even make them think that you are taking them for granted. Therefore, when someone does something good, praise them. This could be simply saying well done, and acknowledging that they have achieved something, or you could go further and include the good work in a newsletter, or award employee of the month or similar.

You can also share good client feedback about a member of the team. Although it’s great to get praise from a manager, for example, it can feel even better to get it from someone from outside of the company.

Give Them Challenges

Another way to show someone that you value their input into the business is to challenge them. Giving them easy work to do all the time can get rather boring after a while, and if they don’t feel happy doing their work because they are bored, they may still want to look elsewhere. If you can give them a challenge out of their usual remit such as cold calling customers, or even designing a page on the website, they will feel as though you value them because you believe in them enough to ask them to do something they wouldn’t normally do. On top of that, they will learn something new too – and that is never boring.

5 Ways To Offer Your Customers Added Value

Running your own business isn’t always all about what you want to do; sometimes (most of the time) it’s about what your customers want, which means that you need to work out how to give them everything they need in such a way that they will return time and again. Offering something of added value, whether online or in a physical store, is one way to do that.

Giving your customers added value will be hard work initially, but once you have done it (and you have systems in place to allow you to continue to do it) you will make more money, have better profits, and your business will thrive because of it. Not only that, but you will be ahead of your competition, which is always a good thing. Take a look at the following ways of adding value to your business and see which ones you can implement.

Quick And Efficient

It used to be the case that people were happy to wait for whatever it was they had ordered. It could take weeks, perhaps even months, for their purchase to be ready and for it to be dispatched. Today, no one wants to wait that long – no one really wants to wait at all. Therefore, when someone orders something from you, whether it’s a product or a service, they expect it as soon as possible. Some even require it on the same day, and most would prefer next day delivery where they can get it. If you can promise that you will deliver on the next working day, your business will stand out and you will find that more people choose to use your services.

What will really add value for your customers is getting this speedy service without having to pay for it. Whereas some companies will charge for next day delivery, you could take on those costs yourself. Although it would be a higher initial cost, over time you will find more customers so it would be canceled out. It’s important to do this because you are equating your business with efficient, inexpensive service.

The Best Quality

It’s not always possible to beat your competitors when it comes to pricing; if you start to price your goods too low, you will stop making a profit (and you might even make a loss). So if you can’t stand out due to your pricing, you will need to look at other ways to do it and the best way is to provide items or services that are of exceptional quality. If you do this, the higher price won’t matter because people will be willing to pay for something that is above average.

Remember that determining something’s quality is all down to the customer; if something is of high quality it is because the customer believes it to be do. Therefore, you will need to carry out market research to work out what it is that your customers want (and need).

Give Them A Gift

Everyone loves a free gift and if that gift happens to be able to do some advertising for you at the same time, then it is doubly useful. You don’t have to give something away to every customer who buys something from you, but if you choose to give, for example, iPhone cases to the customers who spend the most with you, or who refer their friends, or even who write a glowing testimonial, then they are going to receive even more value for money. This will go a long way and although you will need to spend at first, the return you get on this kind of investment should be excellent, and well worth the initial cost.

Choose something that has your name and logo on it, and the more the gift is used, the more your name will be noticed. This adds value to the process for you too, which will help you with lowering your marketing costs.

Be There

If you can be available as much of the time as possible, you are automatically offering your customers even more added value. You will need to be as responsive to emails as possible, and reply to comments on social media as quickly as you can. Answer the telephone within two or three rings and this will all ensure that your business appears to put the customer first. These may only be small acts when you look at the big picture, but these are the ones that can make the biggest difference.

Of course, you can’t possibly be around 24 hours a day to answer emails and comments quickly, and this is where you can utilize new technology to your advantage. You could include a chat bot on your website so that questions can be answered at all times of the day and night, or you could make an app that is intuitive and allows customers to work through the process without having to get in touch in the first place (another bonus for them).

Fix Problems

Added value comes in many forms, and one of those forms is being able to fix problems when they occur. No one is perfect, and issues will arise through no one’s fault (or sometimes a genuine mistake has occurred). What the problem is is far less important than how it is solved and what happens afterwards.

Every company is going to work hard towards fixing any problems that occur, but will every company offer something to any customer who has been inconvenienced by the problem? The answer is probably not, but you can and that will make you stand out and give your customers added value. You could give them a discount on their next purchase, or coupons that they can use or give away to their friends, for example. You might go even further and ask them to come in to take a look around your workspace to see how things are done, if that is something that would interest them.

How To Have A Debt Free Retirement

If you truly want to retire, you will need to pay off all of your debts before you stop working – if not, you may have to delay your retirement plans and continue to work just to service those debts. When you reach retirement age, you will want to enjoy life and see and do as many things as possible – the things you couldn’t necessarily see and do when you were working. So being debt free is something you should work towards. Here are some ways to do it.

Save

The simplest way to pay off your debts is to save money. Open up a separate savings account and put all your ‘spare’ money into it. When you have enough to pay off a loan or credit card entirely, you can take the money out and do so. At the same time, you will need to stop borrowing, so lock the credit card away (for emergency use only) and don’t take on any more finance or loans, otherwise as quickly as you pay one thing off, you’ll have something else to save up for. It’s far better to buy things outright, even if you have to dip into your savings to do so, than it is to borrow because when borrowing you will have to factor in interest, and that can make things very expensive.

Once everything is paid off, continue to save and use that money to fund your retirement plans. If you start early, you will have plenty of money to enjoy some exciting trips and start some wonderful new hobbies.

Start Investing

Investment is another good way of paying off debts and funding your retirement at the same time. If you do your research first and learn as much as possible about what you are doing when it comes to investment, you can make a good return on your initial payment, and pay off your debts much more quickly. You can invest in almost anything including stocks and shares, property, and other businesses. Once you have decided where you want to put the money, finding a broker is a good idea so that you can make the most of your investment.

Downsize

If you own a property and you’re paying a mortgage on it, will that mortgage be paid off by the time you come to retire? This can be the biggest debt you owe, but you may not consider it a debt and it may not figure in your plans. However, if you’re not working, are you going to be able to continue to pay your mortgage? If not, downsizing is a good option. When you downsize, you sell your current home and buy something cheaper (and usually smaller). That way, if you choose wisely at the right time, you may not have a mortgage left at all – and you might even have money left over, which can be used to pay off any remaining debts.

4 Ways To Keep Your Employees Motivated

Having a motivated workforce can make a big difference when it comes to how profitable and productive your business is. It’s your job as an employer to ensure that your team is motivated and happy. There are a number of different ways that this can be done, and here are some of them to consider. Not all will work for all people and all businesses, so take a look and decide for yourself what will work for you.

Be A Supportive Leader

In many cases, good leadership can be a huge factor in employee motivation. If you are going to be supportive you need to work closely with your team but also allow them some freedoms to work on their own initiative. Getting this balance right can be difficult, but once you have found it you will discover that it definitely helps with your employees’ motivation levels.

A good leader always holds themselves to a higher level of accountability and will own up to any mistakes they make (which they will because, after all, no one is perfect). That means working with a data loss specialist to prevent devastating losses, and it means taking responsibility for errors made within the company when it comes to customers, for example.

Empower Individuals

When an employee feels empowered and valued as an individual, they will work harder for their employer. Make sure that you allow your entire workforce to the chance to show what they can do. Even if they don’t quite manage it as you might have liked, giving them the opportunity is what really counts and it will make them work much harder in the future too.

Have A Positive Workplace

With so much time spent at the office, the working environment needs to be as positive as possible in order to get the best out of people. If it’s dull or uninspiring or even uncomfortable in any way, your employees will simply want to leave at the earliest opportunity and it’s unlikely that they will look forward to returning in the morning. This is not conducive to great work.

Making the office a great place to be by ensuring it is well decorated and has everything that your employees might need such as tea and coffee making facilities, a comfortable break room, even indoor plants and pictures, can really help to push them to do their best.

Reward Good Work

The best employees are the ones that want to work hard for you, but those who are doing so, and getting results, without hearing anything from you in response are going to become demotivated very quickly. Therefore, you need to look out for good work and reward it where necessary. This could be as simple as calling a meeting to praise that employee, or you might want to give them something such as vouchers or flowers. It’s these small touches that will keep an employee motivated for longer.

Etiquette For Dining Out In Portugal

Whether you’re in Portugal for a vacation or a business trip, you’re going to want to eat out at least some of the time you’re there (and the food is so good in Portugal that you might even want to eat out for every meal). If that’s the case, then it’s important to know the right Portuguese restaurant etiquette so that you can be comfortable and relaxed knowing you’re not making any faux pas that could embarrass you, your guests, the other diners, or the staff themselves. Here are some of the most important pieces of etiquette to be aware of.

Should You Seat Yourself?

The short answer is no, you shouldn’t, unless you’re in a café or bar. If you’re in a normal kind of restaurant then it’s better to wait by the counter or the ‘to be seated’ sign if there is one and look for a waiter or waitress to help you. Busy restaurants mean that if you seat yourself you won’t always be spotted which results in long waiting times for you and frustrated staff because they didn’t realize you were there.

Free Food?

In Portugal, just as pretty much everywhere else, there isn’t really any such thing as free food. However, you would be forgiven for assuming that you have been given something for nothing when, after getting you seated, your waiter or waitress brings out a plate of what is called ‘entradas’. They won’t have asked you what you wanted, or even if you wanted something, but unless you tell them otherwise, it will be brought to you. This is an appetizer and will be added to your final check so be aware of this before you begin to question what is on your bill. Remember, though, that dining out in Portugal is not an overly expensive thing to do, so it shouldn’t cause too much of an issue on your budget and won’t eat into the loan (or emprestimo) you got to fund your trip.

You Don’t Have To Order Extra Vegetables

When you look at the menu of a Portuguese restaurant you’ll notice that there is very little description for each dish. Whereas in the States you’ll get lots of fancy phrases and plenty of information about exactly what comes with the meat, fish, or vegetable dish you are ordering, in Portugal it’s different. There you will find that people assume each dish will come with the right accompaniments. For example, fish tends to be served with boiled potatoes or a salad, and meat dishes will often come with white rice or fries; it will all depend on what you order and how the particular restaurant you have picked works.

Look For The Plate Of The Day

When you’re choosing your food at lunch time, you should look out for the plate of the day (the pratos do dia). This will often be handwritten on a piece of paper and stuck to the window or menu board, so it could be easy to miss if you’re not looking for it, and that would be a shame. The plate of the day consists of whatever was caught fresh that morning by the local fishermen, and it will be something different each day; even if the fish is the same, how it is prepare will vary. It is always worth trying because it tends to be cheaper than other dishes on the menu and is always something interesting.

Order The House Wine

It can be a little embarrassing to order the house white or red in a restaurant at home because that wine tends to be inexpensive and not always that pleasant. In Portugal ordering the house wine makes a lot of sense because it is going to be locally produced and sourced, great value, and it will compliment the dishes you have ordered perfectly. The restaurants in Portugal take pride in being able to match their wines to their food. Ordering the house wine is what the locals will most often do, so it just shows you what a good idea it is. Don’t forget to note down the name of the wine so that you can look out for it elsewhere too.

Don’t Ask For Substitutions

In many restaurants in the States and in other places in the world you can choose a dish from the menu but ask for it to be made with this or that ingredient instead of one of the ones mentioned in the description. You might want extra cheese, or you might want the dish without capsicums, or any other changes that take your fancy. This is not the done thing in Portugal, and what you see on the menu is what you’ll tend to get served to you. Even if you do ask for something to be changed in most cases it won’t be, so it’s best just to order and enjoy rather than trying to get the busy chef to make substitutions.

Your Water

Unless you specifically ask for it, water won’t be provided to your table, so if you want it make sure you mention it to your server. You’ll have a few choices when it comes to your water, and one of these is not something you are likely to come across at home – you’ll need to choose whether you wanted the water chilled (fresca) or at room temperature (natural). In Many European countries the preference is for room temperature water, even on the hottest of days, so make sure you do ask for fresca if you prefer your water colder. You can also choose between sparkling (com gas) or still (sem gas).

No Hands

In Portugal it is seen as bad manners to use your hands to eat, even if you are enjoying a burger or a pizza. Therefore, it’s much more polite for you to use your knife and fork. This may feel a little strange, but if you don’t want to stand out you should try it – you’ll soon get the idea.