My yearly pilgrimage to SXSW Interactive in Austin, Texas

So far, 2011 has been hair-raisingly exciting, a bit daunting but a lot of fun. And next week promises to be yet another of those weeks.

Like I’ve done for the past three years, I’m going to SXSW Interactive in Austin, Texas. The biggest twist this year is that I’m not travelling alone, but taking Andrew and Anna with me! Hopefully, the event lives up to the tales of fortuitous meetings, massive BBQs and equally large margaritas I’ve told them.

Austin is a lovely and very lively city, especially when thousands of people descend from all over the world to talk about tech, listen to bands or see films together. We’re going to SXSW to fill out brains with interesting stories, meetings and information, to meet fellow Mac developers, community managers and interesting people from all walks of life. If you’re going, let me know on @vero on Twitter. I’ll be bringing some Alfred schwag with me and will be wearing a very fetching black and purple bowler hat, so I shouldn’t be too hard to locate!

If you aren’t going to SXSW and don’t want to hear me waffle on, you can mute me for the week. 😉

[Photo credit: David Herrera on Flickr]

South by SouthWest Interactive: Take 3

It’s Wednesday night. Well, no. It’s Thursday morning 4:30am in my head & body. But it’s Wednesday night in Austin, Texas.

I’m at South by SouthWest Interactive for the third year running, having arrived, via far too many security gates and angry Customs people, a couple of hours ago.

Tomorrow should be fairly laid back, but Friday, everything kicks into high gear for 5 days of intense conference presentations and panels, evening parties and non-stop meeting new people and seeing old friends.

As old Ottawa friend and Austin roommate Kelly suggests, no need to unfollow me on Twitter, you can just mute me for the weekend if you’re not interested in details of my every move during SXSW.

I’ll report as well as I can from panels, serendipitous meetings over the week and will hopefully post some pics – or at least link to other kind photographers’ shots.

If you’re also in Austin, do tweet me (@vero) and we’ll meet up somewhere, somehow.

Bruges, Barcelona, Paris: On the road again

As you might know, I’m Canadian. You knew that, right?

So while I’ve been living in the UK for nearing onto 8 years (minus a few months pottering back and forth to finish University in Canada), it still blows my little mind that I can get from London to Paris in just over 2 hours, or fly to Barcelona in even less.

While my travel schedule doesn’t rival the travel calendars of most of my esteemed industry colleagues, it makes me smile that in the course of a month, my Canadian passport will be stamped with Belgian, French and Spanish stamps.

In Bruges (with a detour via Brussels)

Last weekend was the Bruges trip; a hectic two-day trip to Brussels, where we visited the Cantillon brewery home to Lambic, Gueuze, Faro and Kriek beers. I was lucky enough to try an elder blossom lambic, which was rather unusual and flowery but worth a try. We then moved on to Bruges for the evening, wandering the streets and trying more Belgian beers from Edric’s 100 Belgian Beers to Try Before You Die list. The next morning, we did the classic boat tour, ate more mussels and fries, then slowly (very slowly, thanks to National Express useless train services) made our way home.

Next, Barcelona

In just under two weeks, I’ll be popping over to sunny (I hope) Barcelona for a spot of brainstorming with a brilliant client’s team. If I’m lucky, I’ll have a few hours to pop by Las Ramblas and soak in some Spanish vibes (and Spanish wine).

Last stop, Paris

logoMy last stop before Christmas will be Paris, for the LeWeb ’09 conference, where they’ve kindly invited me as official blogger. I’m looking forward to seeing old friends, meeting new faces and seeing new startups and entrepreneurs get passionate about the web.

For those who aren’t familiar with Le Web, it’s a yearly conference with over 1800 attendees with themes relating to the web, technology, but with a broad appeal that will tickle the curiosity of non-geeks as well. Some of the speakers this year include Twitter’s Jack Dorsey, productivity geek Tim Ferriss, TechCrunch’s Mike Arrington (who will undoubtedly get into mudslinging as he does every year), an unusually sober Paul Carr and Her Majesty Queen Rania of Jordan. A rather varied bunch then!

If you’re also attending, drop me a line or leave a comment, as I’d love to meet some new people!

[As a complete aside, titling this post “On the road again” caused me to start singing Richard Séguin’s “L’Ange Vagabond”, which contains the lyrics “On the road again”. I ended up downloading the album from iTunes – gobsmacked iTunes UK has a French-Canadian album from 1993 in its catalogue! Time for a trip down memory lane…]

"Blogs & Social Media in Business" Workshop: 19th Nov in London

pepsmedia_workshop_artAs I’ve mentioned before here and there, one of the most successful Pepsmedia activities these days is training courses. It also happens to be something I truly love doing.

The next “Blogs & Social Media in Business” introductory workshop day is next week, on Thursday 19th November, at Wallacespace St Pancras in London and due to a change of plans with one company (who have now opted for an in-house training course for their whole team), all of a sudden, I have 8 places available on the course.

In order to fill the course and have enough participants to make the course interesting, I’m offering these places at cost, only £95, instead of the usual £395!

If you secretly wish you understood why people use hashtags on Twitter, how to work social media tools into your existing marketing plan, need to manage online relationships or just wonder how to approach bloggers in your industry, then this one is for you. We tackle all the jargon that flies around the web, and make it make sense.

Complete this form and mention the blog post to get the course at the awesome low-cost of £95 + VAT (I feel like Billy Mays in an infomercial, help!) for a full day of training, as well as tasty breakfast, lunch and snacks throughout the day.  

In the past, we’ve had attendees from a range of industries – solicitors, travel & tourism marketers, luxury fashion retailers and small business owners – all of whom said they thoroughly enjoyed the course and learned a lot.

Grab the workshop brochure here for more details, and join me next Thursday for a fun and insightful day on social media.

The thrill of the ride & Making your own luck

Big wheels

It’s rare that I start a blog entry by apologising for the radio silence – but it’s also rare that I go nearly an entire month without blogging – so please accept my apologies for going a month without publishing anything.

It’s certainly not for lack of things to write about, that’s for sure. The past few months have been some of the most exciting of my life; self-employment is in full swing and Pepsmedia is doing great, we’ve had two fabulous holidays (first was a quirky narrowboating trip with friends, second was a relaxing two weeks in Canada to see my family), and life has generally been very good to us.

Amongst all these brilliant events, however, time to step back and admire how far I’ve come since getting to the UK in 2001, which now feels like a lifetime ago.

But today, I’m feeling contemplative. Perhaps it’s because, as of yesterday, Pepsmedia now has a Cambridge office and I’m basking in the autumnal sunshine. Or perhaps it’s because our first employee is starting next week and I can already feel a weight lift off my shoulders, safe in the knowledge that I’ll soon have a secondary brain available to help me (what can I say, the cloning attempts have all failed…) Or it might simply be because I’m in a good mood.

When I chose to take online marketing and social media consultancy seriously, I didn’t know how well I’d fare, but I took the plunge. “What’s the worst that can happen?”, I told myself, “Worst case scenario, I get a new regular job or take on a temporary contract.” But after a good dose of hard work, long hours and a bit of luck, things are going brilliantly. An old colleague commented, saying I was so lucky to be where I was today, doing what I love and working with truly awesome clients.

While thinking about what proportion was luck, and what was blood, sweat and tears, I came across a post by Tara Hunt on people who seem to be lucky, and others who don’t seem to benefit from this supposed luck. Paraphrasing Richard Wiseman, a psychologist at the University of Hertfordshire, she highlights four main characteristics of lucky people:

Four characteristics of lucky people

  1. Lucky people are skilled at creating and noticing chance opportunities;
  2. Lucky people make lucky decisions by listening to their intuition;
  3. Lucky people create self-fulfilling prophesies via positive expectations; and
  4. Lucky people adopt a resilient attitude that transforms bad luck into good.

To some extent, some days the planets probably do align better for you than for someone else. But generally speaking, luck isn’t about crossing your fingers in the hope that something good will happen, but rather taking every opportunity to MAKE your own luck.

If you’re passionate about something and you want to be “the lucky one who gets to do what they love for a living”, sitting in a job you dislike, slogging away on demotivating work hours a day, the lucky break won’t happen by itself.

Talk to people who understand where you want to be and may create serendipitous situations where you meet the right people to help you get where you want to be. Find pet projects in the evening, things that get you closer to learning the skills you’ll need to get to your goal. If it’s possible, even consider talking to your current boss to see if you can come to an arrangement; for example, my last employer let me move from full time to two days a week, providing me with a “safety net” while giving me the flexibility to get started.

Most of all, enjoy the journey. It’s like a long hike; while the destination matters, you’ve got to keep your head high and enjoy the view along the way!

So while I’m blogging less regularly, be sure to say hi on Twitter in the meantime.

[Photo credit: John-Morgan on Flickr, Creative Commons]

Win a 23" LG Monitor: What's Your Best Lifehack Tip?

It’s never been a secret that I’m a bit of a GTD nerd, and since working from home, have tried to tweak my home office to be as welcoming as possible.

lg_monitor

So recently, when LG offered to send me a 23″ W53 monitor to review AND one to give away to readers, I couldn’t resist saying yes. I’ll be reviewing it soon, but first impressions are excellent and it has taken prime spot on my desk (replacing a Samsung 24″ I’d only bought in January).

How to win the monitor

I’m keeping the competition nice and simple, so that it only takes you a minute to take part: Tell me about your best office or life hack. Whether at home or when sharing an office with others, we each have our own way of making our working life slightly more comfortable/enjoyable, so tell me what your tricks are. I’ve published a few tips of my own before, and would love to hear yours.

Leave a comment with your own tip by August 4th, and you’ll be in with a chance of getting a brand new LG W2353V monitor (retailing at about £149) delivered to your door in a few weeks. This competition is now closed, but feel free to leave more interesting tips and tricks. Maybe I’ll give you a cookie.

So go on, let’s hear it!

Terms of the competition

  1. The competition is open to anyone on the UK mainland. Sorry to my other readers, I promise the next competition will be open to everyone! I think as long as you don’t live in Alaska, we might be able to sway the PR agency to ship to you so give it a try 🙂
  2. You can take part as many times as you like, so three comments will mean three entries. However, I reserve the right to scrap your entry if you’re obviously just trying to make up numbers.
  3. The competition runs until August 4th at 11:59pm UK time, so as long as your comment is timestamped before then, your entry counts, even if it’s in the moderation queue until morning. I’ll announce the winner shortly thereafter.

Ten Tips to Avoid the Heat This Summer in Your Home and Your Business

It’s entirely possible that Britain has had the only three days of sunshine it’ll get this summer, and while I’m writing this, it’s monsoon weather out there. Regardless, summer is an interesting time for anyone working running a small business, so here are a few tips to beat off the heat both in your home office and in your business.

Keep your house cool

summer_cocktail

First let’s look at a few tips to keep your house from heating up during the day:

1. Setup fans to make the air circulate

Rather than just letting air blow towards you, setup two fans along a “corridor” area crossing your house or apartment – from bedroom to office or kitchen to living room. One should face inwards and the other outwards so as to encourage the natural airflow throughout the rooms.

2. Get it done before the heat kicks in

Let the fresh air into the house early in the morning. Open all the windows, and let the crisp morning air cool down the house before the sun gets too strong.

In the same spirit, get your toughest work done early in the morning. Once it gets too warm and you can’t focus, you’ll be able to take on the easy tasks (or pop out for an ice cream!)

3. Keep the blinds down

Throughout the day, selectively shut blinds and windows on the sunny side of the house to avoid turning your home office into an oven.

4. Rehydrate

You may not be doing very physical activity when working at home, but when it’s hot around you, you’ll sweat nonetheless. Be sure to drink plenty of water to keep your brain working at its best.

5. Make iced coffee

If like me, you need your caffeine to get the day going, try this cold-brewed iced coffee. Sure, the soaking coffee grounds look like a bowl of mud in the fridge, but it makes delicious iced coffee and can be prepared in larger quantity to last a few days. It’s a great way to avoid hot beverages if you’re already feeling too toasty.

Keep your business cool

1. Warn clients ahead of your holidays

If you’re a fairly small outfit, you may not have significant backup when you go on holiday. Let your clients know at least a few weeks in advance, so that any urgent work can be communicated ahead of time.

With difficult clients, it’s worth setting the ground rules ahead of time, letting them know that they need to give you at least a week’s notice for work that needs to be done ahead of a holiday. If you let them know that this ensures you can give them quality results and avoid releasing dodgy code on a Friday night before you go away for two weeks, they’ll (usually) appreciate that it’s for their own good as well as yours.

2. Get backup from colleagues

Wherever possible, build good relationships with industry colleagues who you trust and could rely on to take over while you’re away. Whether it’s running a monthly report for a client or being on-call if things go wrong, it’ll be a relief to have someone back home dealing with it so you don’t have to pick up on the beach!

3. Plan your summer development

Before the summer starts, map out everyone’s holidays on a calendar. Based on the availability, plan your development cycle in more details. Avoid making big promises or planning projects too large for periods where only a few people are in.

4. Setup server monitoring

If you’re hosting client sites, applications or services, put your mind at rest by setting up monitoring. We use Pingdom, but there are many services out there providing a similar service.

5. Create a swipe file

A swipe file is a set of templates, examples and inspiration documents, which can serve as resource or starting point when writing a proposal or starting a new project. Whether it’s a physical print file, or a set of notebooks in Evernote, it’s a great way to give any project a kickstart, especially when you’re not in the mood to be writing and would rather be out playing frisbee!

What are your tips for coping with the challenges of summer? Do you bring in extra support for your team, take on less projects or just don’t take holidays? And do you prefer Pimms & lemonade, an air conditioned office or the beach to help cope with the heat? Share your tips in case the warmth comes back! (In the meantime,  I’m off to turn the heating back on!)

[Image credit: “Vicar’s Delight” by Tower Girl on Flickr, CC]

Spring brings change to Pepsmedia.com

With many years of moonlighting and now nearly a year under my belt working full time for Pepsmedia, we felt lately that it was time to refresh our site to reflect the shift in what we’ve been doing for our clients.

The new Pepsmedia siteMuch of my time this year has been focused on strategic planning for blog & social media campaigns, in-house coaching and brand monitoring, interspersed with some gorgeous blog and website designs. So far, it’s been both the most enjoyable and the most challenging experience I’ve ever faced.

Many people ask me whether I regret choosing this economic climate to jump into self-employment, and I always answer that I don’t have an ounce of regret. Sure, I’ve had a few sleepless nights and my squeezy stressball is due for some therapy, but it’s been worth it every step of the way.

I’ve had the opportunity to work with great clients to date, and every new meeting excites me because it keeps getting better. Great projects, great experiences and best of all, I didn’t have to eat beans on toast for too long. (Phew, I hate beans on toast…)

So over the past few weeks, we spent some time brewing a new design for pepsmedia.com and finally launched it this week. Let me know what you think of it!

Ada Lovelace Day: Make Your Own Path

Today is Ada Lovelace Day; organised by Suw Charman-Anderson, the day was inspired by her female friends in technology who felt they were “disenfranchised and invisible”. The idea of recognising the women in our lives who inspire, support and surround us is a good, noble one. I hope it can make a difference and change the lives of younger women who are deciding what career to aim for when they grow up.

But… I wouldn’t say I’m thrilled with the event. It leaves me feeling uncomfortable and on edge, like I’m politely standing still for a picture but my nose is itching hopelessly. It’s the sentiment that the motivation behind this day is that women feel they are being cheated out of the technology roles they strive for.

First, some background on why I feel this way. I’ve been working in and alongside the tech world for some ten years now; first in computer science publishing, where authors were generally male, but the editorial team often overwhelmingly female. Moving to my next role in web marketing, I was mostly surrounded by developers, designers and occasionally another marketing person. Mostly guys.

The ultimate realisation was in the next move to the mobile industry. I wish I had an areal photo of the first large-scale mobile event I attended: Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. I was standing in the open outdoors square wearing a fuschia pink cardigan, surrounded by a sea of men in grey and black suits. Not another woman in sight. At that point, it really hit me that I’d landed in one of the most male-dominated industries. And somehow, rather than worry me, it made me smile.

Over these years in tech, I have met some strong, determined women who are very much respected in their field. I’ve also met shrinking violets who felt they should get more recognition for one reason or another. Yet, at no point have I met anyone who was able to truly tell me that the reason they didn’t get where they wanted was purely due to being a woman. At no point either have *I* felt that being a girl made any difference to how my career has progressed.

There are a million reasons not to be where you want to be; lack of drive and passion, poor understanding or knowledge of an industry, chronic shyness or fear of putting one foot in front of the other and walking into a room full of men. But using sex-based discrimination as the sole reason not to be where you want to be today is bullshit.

The topic of gender imbalance at tech conferences often crops up in conversation. Yes, it’s true there are less women speaking at tech events. Yes, it’s true there are less women in tech generally. But it’s changing and fast; mainly due to strong girls choosing to walk into that classroom of blokes. Of these girls, I am truly proud. Of those who spend more time complaining about the lack of recognition rather than DO something worthy of recognition, I’m a lot less proud.

So girls, grab every opportunity that comes your way to learn, gain experience, and don’t be afraid to screw up along the way. The men didn’t always get it right the first time either. Just be bold, gutsy and you’ll be respected for your smarts and wits, rather than for your boobs.

And to those who have done it and continue to prove that girls rock, thank you all for being an inspiration!

Arriving Smarter: More Than 15 Ways to Get Busy During Dead Time

london_underground
Most of us spend at least an hour a day travelling; commuting to work by car, train, bus or flying somewhere for business. It’s time that’s often spent looking out of the window, texting mates or eyeing the cute guy/girl sitting across from you on the train. (Or if you’re travelling to London, wondering whether the leaves on the track are going to delay the train again…)

It’s an hour or more that you should recuperate and use for your own benefits so here are a few suggestions for arriving smarter. [Credit to Christopher S. Penn for the “Arrive Smarter” theme & Tarek for pointing me to it originally.]

Listen to an audio or video podcast

Podcasts vary in quality, style, length and topics, so whatever you want to listen to, you should be able to find it. I tend to opt for a more focused podcast on the journey in; it wakes up the brain, gives some interesting ideas and motivation for the day. On the way home, I prefer the freestyle and slightly silly podcasts, which are sometimes informative, but always lighthearted.

  • TEDTalks video podcasts: TED offers some great food for thoughts from some fascinating people all over the world. Pick a topic you feel has little to do with your day job or industry and just listen. Some notable speakers for me have been Jill Bolte Taylor, Ze Frank and a number of people who spoke about creativity, imagination & education. [TEDTalks iTunes link]
  • BBC Radio 4 World of Business podcast
  • Heidi Miller’s Diary of a Shameless Self-Promoter: Brits tend to be much too self-deprecating and rubbish at self-promotion, so this one’s for you, my lovely limeys! Heidi’s podcasts cover a range of topics relating to promoting your business, yourself, and smart networking. [DSSP iTunes link]
  • Look for audio readings of Cory Doctorow‘s books, it’s always good to listen to.
  • Poke around the Podcasts section in the iTunes store and let me know what discoveries you make!

Tip: If you’re an iPhone/iPod user, set it to automatically sync a few “most recent unplayed” podcasts through the options in the “Podcasts” tab in iTunes. That way, you’ll always have fresh stuff to listen to even if you haven’t had the time to pick podcasts manually before travelling.

Pick a book that will help you towards your goals this year

If you’ve picked a themeword for 2009, to help you drive your year forward, browse the web for a list of a few books, ebooks or research papers that will get you closer to your objectives. Or just pick a book to make you think, laugh or cry!

Here are some of mine, to accompany my themeword “Impact” for 2009.

  • Tara Hunt‘s The Whuffie Factor, which will be published soon is on my must-read list
  • Cory Doctorow’s Down & Out in the Magic Kingdom is half holiday fiction, half social critique. I’ve already read it but definitely recommend it.
  • Dan Ariely’s Predictably Irrational is proving to be a good read on why and how we take certain actions, and how we may think we’re rational, we’re in fact predictably working on emotions or subconscious cues.
  • If you’re a productivity buff, you’ll know this guy, but if you’re new to it, you might enjoy Tim Ferriss’ 4-Hour Work Week. Or Leo Babauta’s The Power of Less (which will be available soon in the UK)
  • Sitting on my bookshelf for far too long is Charlene Li’s Groundswell is much overdue to be read.

Keep offline reading material handy on your computer

If you’re the type who uses a laptop on the commute in, you may not always have the luxury of an Internet connection so when you find interesting PDF ebooks, stick them in a “To read” folder on your desktop to dig into when you’ve next got some spare time.

Alternatively, if you’re into that dead tree printing stuff,  carry a hard copy if you really must, but use the reverse side of paper you used before, or recycle the paper later by either giving it to someone else you feel would benefit or by chucking it in the recycling bin.

A few great ebooks:

  • Leo Babauta from Zen Habits (same guy as above) recently published an ebook called Thriving on Less, which is rather appropriate in this year where much of our usual habits need to be re-examined to avoid excessive spending and keep us afloat through tough times.
  • 37 Signals’ Getting Real: While I don’t really go for the 37S Koolaid, I must admit it contains some great tips for working with small teams and producing quality apps.
  • Seth Godin’s Flipping the Funnel may be nearly 3 years old but it remains very relevant. Seth has created a number of ebooks over the years, so why not browse his site and download a few?
  • Chris Brogan wrote Using the Social Web to Find Work is highly relevant in this era of job uncertainty. A worthwhile read.
  • Finally, not so much an eBook but rather a Slideshare presentation you can download: Chrystie Corns, Social Marketing Manager at Where.com created a cracking presentation giving insight into what it’s like to tweet, blog and use social networks for a living.

Make a conscious effort to relax

Not interested in any of the above and prefer to snooze or stare out the window on your way into work? That’s fine, in fact, it’s great! Your brain needs that restful time. But let’s do a deal, if you’re going to go for zen, do it well.

In other words, don’t let the train’s delay, the elbow in the ribs, the loud guy on his phone or the snow wrecking havoc piss you off. Take a deep breath and admire the glint of the sun on the buildings. Smile at strangers. Just enjoy the mental time off.

[Image: Birdbath’s Piccadilly Filly (or 50 Things you never knew about London Underground) on Flickr, Creative Commons license]

Oh hello there!

I'm Véro - a crafty, knitty, spinny gal who enjoys making (and drinking) a cocktail or three. If you've stumbled here, you might enjoy browsing some of my older posts with the tags over to the right or finding out more about me.

Say hi in the comments or on Twitter! :)

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