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Be On Brand This Festive Season by Yvonne Toering

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As the busiest social season of corporate and employer hospitality approaches, this is a good time to address the subject of the company Christmas party.

As a guest, and as a host, there’s quite a bit to be considered, not least, what not to do at festive function.   If you’re in an environment where year-round business socialising has been prevalent, you’ve probably seen (and heard of) countless social blunders and corporate clangers, and nowhere is this more prolific than at the work Christmas do.

It’s astonishing how Brand Buffoon comes to the fore, to boot the most carefully nurtured Brand Me image off its precarious pedestal.

Image courtesy of Ambro at

In the interests of fairness, I’ll ‘fess up to having been less than whiter than seasonal snow-driven slush, (or was it lush?), just so this ramble doesn’t smack of the holier-than-thou.

Back in the day when I was a newly minted sales sprog, I attended my first company Christmas party, a lavish affair complete with all-night free bar (uh-oh!).

The lessons I learned from the experience are:

  1. An all-night bar doesn’t make it compulsory to drink all night;
  2. Never attempt (if you’re on your ‘nth’ bubbly beverage) to converse with anyone of authority, however jolly they seem on the Bolli – it’s a trap;
  3. Do not approach the tilting dance floor – you could barely stay upright when it wasn’t moving;
  4. It’s inelegant to crawl up the foyer staircase – take the elevator – the service elevator (by now you can easily pass for a bag of laundry);
  5. Only a complete numpty books their top prospect appointment for the morning after.

Not the most auspicious way to launch a career and Brand Me.  It was so long ago that it pre-dates handheld mobile phones, let alone iPhones and social media (thank you God!); I can only show my face on LinkedIn now because my bosses from back then have since retired or died – or have pretended to in order to avoid me.

Had there been such things as Blogs at the time, I may have been saved (from my idiotic self) by Dan Miles’ Blog The Ultimate Office Christmas Party Etiquette Guide, in which he lists his #1 tip as ‘Be on brand’.   A piece of invaluable advice!   It’s quite hilarious, if a bit naughty …

In a more managerial vein, there’s also this article on Managing Office Christmas Parties from the legal eagles Eversheds.  After reading this last one, you could be forgiven for grinching out and doing without a Christmas do … if you don’t mind being Brand Grinch.

Yvonne Toering is a business development consultant who has worked with leading organisations and brands including Securicor Group, Vodafone Group, ASDA as well as most of the UK’s major high street retail chains including Marks and Spencer Plc, the National Health Service, Royal Dutch Shell Plc, Mars UK, and the Grand Metropolitan Group, owners of Burger King, Smirnoff, Samuel Webster Brewers, Haagen Daas, Cinzano and other iconic brands.


7 Simple, Proven Tips to Immediately Get More Out of Your Day by Michelle Hanton

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We’ve hit November and the time seem to fly past faster than ever! If you’ve often wished for more hours in a day, I’m sharing my tips for squeezing out extra time each and every workday.

Women on Clock
Image courtesy of Iosphere at

Here are my 7 top tips for getting more out of each day:

1) Checking emails – have designated times for checking your emails. First thing in the morning, midday and before I finish for the day works well for me.

If possible, shut down your email between those times. If you need to refer to information in your emails, set it to offline mode. This will allow you access to all your information whilst also ensuring you do not constantly feel the need to look at what is coming through.

When going through your emails, if there are some that you can deal with via a quick response, do it immediately. It’s quicker than flagging for follow-up and then having to come back to it later. (I call this a Quick Flick task – more on this aspect in another blog)

2) Social Media – this is very much a part of business today and we can’t do without it. However, we do need to be aware of what a time waster it can be. I’m guilty of getting sucked into reading funnies, articles, etc., so willpower is essential.

The solution I’ve found is to apply some rules, just as with emails. Unless you work in an occupation which requires you to be constantly on, then a similar schedule to email checking works very well. Create a system for posting and checking your pages and stick to it!

3) Mute your phone and set your Skype to offline. This will avoid interruptions and allow you to concentrate so much better!

I actually have my Skype set to offline for the vast majority of my workday.  I also only answer my phone at set times. If you answer your phone when you’re busy on another project, you often end up losing focus and worst of all, you fail to give the caller your full attention.

If it’s necessary to have your phone on for the family, it’s a good idea to have a totally separate mobile number that is exclusively for very close family.

4) Keep a notepad handy – this is perfect for scribbling down any thoughts that pop into your head at random moments.

Have you found how when you’re not thinking about a particular area, a thought will suddenly form? I often find when I am working I’ll have an unbidden thought of what I need to buy at the supermarket, or a great idea for a client blog, etc – I don’t want to lose the thought, so my notepad allows me to get it down on paper. The act of writing it down, then frees my mind to continue to concentrate on the task at hand.

5) Break times – Set yourself designated break times and stick to them. Leave your desk, and if possible go outside into the fresh air.

Don’t eat at your desk, take the time to chat to colleagues or read a magazine/chapter from a book, listen to some relaxing music or whatever appeals to you.

This is not wasting time, it’s actually setting you up to be more productive. It’s amazing how more clarity you have after a short break – even 15 minutes can make a difference. You’ll work more efficiently – guaranteed! I didn’t always used to do this, but once I started to implement this technique, it’s made a huge difference.

6) Make Life Easier – there are lots of great tools out there that can help make life easier.

I particularly like Simple Team Meeting  for  online agenda’s as this means everyone involved in a meeting can contribute to the organisation, which alleviates the pressure of having to prepare single-handedly agenda’s and meeting papers.

Trello is a great tool for  keeping all kinds of stuff organised, kind of like a virtual pinboard and like Simple Team Meeting is super easy to use.

7) Set aside the last 15 minutes at the end of your workday for  review.  Use this time to:

  • Go over your emails
  • Delete and file anything you don’t need
  • Check your trusty notepad for the days unbidden thoughts
  • Look over your calendar and add in/delete/accepts as appropriate
  • Transfer any outstanding tasks to tomorrows
  • Finalise the next day’s priority list

I’d love to hear your feedback and of course please share any tips you like to use to get more out of each day.

Michelle Hanton is a multi-award winning bespoke business strategist, working internationally as a consultant, coach, speaker and writer. She has a keen interest in the not-for-profit sector and is the former CEO of Lifeline Top End, and founder of Dragons Abreast Australia, a national charity dedicated to the promotion of breast cancer awareness.

Gr(inching) towards Christmas by Yvonne Toering

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Every year I unleash my inner Grinch – usually around late October.  The timing can vary dependent upon where in the world I spot the first assault on my delicate sensibilities, or should I say, aversion, to all things Christmassy any time earlier than December.   This year the beast was awakened as early as the first week of October by a Facebook post from a UK friend, who had purchased a pre-packed sandwich, grandly named, Turkey Feast, with accompanying festive label.  I hope it was consumed hastily since its sell-by-date would certainly not have lasted the distance – rather like me.   There’s a limited amount of grinching in a body and these ever earlier rousings are a challenge to the most dedicated Grinch.   However, I heroically inch towards C Day, grimacing and groaning all the way.

Image courtesy of Dragon Sisters
Image courtesy of Dragon Sisters

At the office, it’s usually the first internal emails which draw me snarling from my lair.   You know the ones I mean, relating to corporate Christmas cards, client hospitality, the staff Christmas party, office Christmas cover and the deluge of first-in-best-dressed Christmas leave applications.   There’s only so much deleting of anything mentioning the C word from your inbox that you can do.   In any case, no sooner does the trigger happy delete digit go to work, than another rash of perky reminders crops up to take the offending email’s place, like some cell-splitting phenomena.

Not surprisingly, my curmudgeonly Christmas attitude has not served me well.   The last minute festive season near fatalities figure large in the annals of self-recriminating memory.   Would clients regard a Happy Meal (with complimentary plastic doodad) as corporate hospitality and would staff bask in a sense of employer appreciation whilst consuming KFC around the municipal parklands Christmas tree?   Possibly not.   Yet such options have been seriously considered by persons (mentioning no names) who do make timely festive feast bookings.   Timeliness being anytime between January and August evidently.

However justifiable my grinching may be, it has to be acknowledged as a less than noble trait.   Although, I was very pleased to find an amusing little essay expounding favourably upon Mr Scrooge’s Christmas carping;  admittedly I had to delve into the archives going back to 1999, but I did unearth this Grinch-friendly piece (it will make you grin):  Humbug–an Environmental Anthem by Robert Oliphant Los Angeles Times.

The truth is that I’ve been frequently saved from self-inflicted Christmas calamities by the magnanimous nature of colleagues less Grinch-like than myself.    They do exist, those of sustainable, seasonal spirit, blessed with the stamina of a Kentucky Derby champion.

Can Christmas be cancelled?   Apparently not.   But it can be delegated, to … The Christmas Co-ordinator!  Any volunteers?  First hand up gets the turkey sandwich …

Yvonne Toering is a business development consultant who has worked with leading organisations and brands including Securicor Group, Vodafone Group, ASDA as well as most of the UK’s major high street retail chains including Marks and Spencer Plc, the National Health Service, Royal Dutch Shell Plc, Mars UK, and the Grand Metropolitan Group, owners of Burger King, Smirnoff, Samuel Webster Brewers, Haagen Daas, Cinzano and other iconic brands.

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We’ve just published our September newsletter. Here’s the link.

If you would like to be  guest contributor or blogger for next issue we’d love to hear any tips and ideas you have to share with others in the business community. Leave us comment here and we’ll get right back to you.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at

The working agenda – how we doubled our productivity By Ben Gardener

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Initially we used it sparingly. Well, did we really need another tool? Being a startup with 3 founders and a few freelancers, we need to keep our act together and work as effective as we can. There is no time to waste. Our tool stack already had a whole bunch of online tools that we regularly used. These are of course Google Docs, Skype, and Google Apps for Email and Calendar. Then we have a whole set of software development tools, most importantly Agile Zen, Campfire, and of course Bitbucket.


So, do we really need another online tool? We always felt that we could be more organized with our meetings. We work in different places on the planet for a large part of our time and have regular online meetings. But every so often, we would forget an item we wanted to discuss. Or sometimes the meetings would drag on without a clear goal or accomplishment. At some point we started using a Google Spreadsheet to create a simple online agenda. We would add topics into the spreadsheet, and delete them as we went along.

Enter Simple Team Meeting. One of our co-founders had used Simple Team Meeting in an earlier project and started to invite us to join a meeting. The initial reaction was: Arghh, another tool I have to sign up for, really? As I said before, we used it sparingly at first. We entered a few items and went over them in the meeting. Then we didn’t use it at all for a few weeks. Someone then entered another topic before the next meeting. Someone else added to it, and so on it went.

Over time, something strange happened. Before we knew it, Simple Team Meeting became the central focus in all our meetings. We started looking at it during the work-week and before the meetings. During the meetings we would work our way down the agenda topic by topic, until everything was done and the meeting finished. Before too long, someone would enter a new topic to be discussed next time. We call this the “working agenda”, meaning that it reflects the current state of our team’s work at any given time.

These days Simple Team Meeting is our constant companion when we want to see what is going on in the company. Our meetings are doubly as productive as before, and by checking off topic by topic, we feel that we have accomplished a lot during the meetings. A completed Agenda feels like a great accomplishment, as we know we have discussed everything that is important. In addition, we have started to create separate agendas for different parts of our process. For example now we have a “Product Meeting” and a “Status Meeting”. Keeping those separate helps us to focus on the topics even more.

Every now and then we also find ourselves looking into the archive of Simple Team Meeting. What did we discuss last March about that trade show? A quick look into the archive reveals what we had written down back then.

So, did we really need another tool? The answer is a resounding YES. Simple Team Meeting has become a valuable member of our online tool set. And we would, of course, recommend it to you, or anyone else who works online in a team.

Hiring a Virtual Assistant – by Michelle Hanton

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Business is booming – yeah! Now you need an assistant to help you keep up with everything. We’ve all heard about virtual assistants (VA). Lot’s of people swear by them, but for many there is often the lingering feeling that a VA is somehow not quite as good as having a ‘real’ person in the office.  Believe it or not, a highly-skilled, very flexible, professional virtual assistant can do the work of one or two (maybe even three) full-time employees.

Help I need an assistantHiring a regular ‘real’ assistant can be mired with pitfalls, and choosing a virtual assistant can also be equally hit or miss at times. I’ve laid out some ideas to consider when looking to hire a virtual assistant and what you should keep in mind.

Cost Efficiency

If you’re running a business, keeping labour costs to a minimum is practically your company mantra. The prime benefit of hiring a virtual assistant is the considerable amount of money you can save

Virtual assistants are usually paid only for the actual hours they work. It means there is no need to pay for overtime work or having to pay someone to sit about waiting for the next task to be allocated.

  1. Your budget allocations will be easier to manage.
  2. Virtual assistants do not require benefits packages; there is no superannuation, pension plans, insurance, etc. that you have to contribute to as an employer.
  3. You save time and money by not having to train employees; just make sure they have the right skills to start with.
  4. No down time spent on chit chat and office gossip.

Strong Skills

Virtual assistants are professionals who usually possess high-level and multi-faceted skills. An effective VA can cut task times, take on various responsibilities while also maintaining quality output. People are often very pleasantly surprised at what their VA can bring to the table.

  • Virtual assistants can take on various admin tasks such as generating reports, managing appointments, task scheduling, email and business correspondence management, data entry, and even some bookkeeping.
  • Perform website management roles using different platforms such as WordPress or Joomla. Some VA’s can also write and post web content, and even have basic to average coding skills.
  • Social media marketing activities, content research, scheduling posts, interacting with Twitter or Facebook followers, and reaching out to gain more social media followers.
  • Launch email marketing campaigns from cradle to grave.
  • Manage customer service calls and emails.
  • Other tasks that you would rather have someone else handle (e.g. book reservations, place orders).

Ready to Hire a Virtual Assistant? Here are some points to remember.

  • Check your prospective VA’s background and find out if he/she is trustworthy and reliable. Do some legwork, Google them, perform a search on Facebook and Linkedin. It’s also okay to ask for client references. It’s amazing how much information is out there.
  • Your assistant is working remotely and should have more than one way of being reached when needed. I like to use Skype as well as email as they are both cost effective.
  • An effective VA is punctual and can stick to schedules or deadlines. This expectation should be set right from the start.
  • While constant communication is key, a good VA should also be able to work with minimum supervision.
  • Make sure your new VA can follow directions as well be proactive in coming up with new ways of streamlining tasks.
  • While you know the specific skills required for a task, your VA should know how to work with the applications relevant to the specific tasks.
  • Your VA should be able to work well with others involved with your business, from your front liners, suppliers, and potential clients.

Hiring a virtual assistant can work miracles for your business when you pick the right one. These professionals work remotely for several reasons, and the most important reason is the most obvious; it’s a serious way to make a decent living while allowing them flexibility around whatever other commitments they may have. It is in their best interest (and yours) to perform above and beyond your expectations to keep you as their client. A win-win scenario!

I’ve been fortunate to work in great VA’s relationships and it all comes down to taking the time to find the right fit for your business. If you’ve every worked with or as a VA, I’d love to hear your feedback and experience.

Michelle Hanton is a multi-award winning bespoke business strategist, working internationally as a consultant, coach, speaker and writer. She has a keen interest in the not-for-profit sector and is the former CEO of Lifeline Top End, and founder of Dragons Abreast Australia, a national charity dedicated to the promotion of breast cancer awareness.

5 Tips for handing in your resignation By Yvonne Toering

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You are considering, or may have already decided upon, resigning from your job. You’re pretty sure this is the right decision, but you may have some mixed feelings, possibly the odd doubt. Only natural when we spend 80% of our time at our job, the majority of our interactions with the people with whom we work. We’ve invested time, energy, commitment, creativity, emotion in our work and have significant relationships with our colleagues, staff, bosses and clients.

Goodbye photo
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

The manner of our transition out of our job is as meaningful as the first impressions we made upon starting our job. Remember how important you thought that was?

Your resignation is the last and, lasting, impression you leave. It’s the final flavour of Brand Me. Do we want to leave the proverbial Bad Taste in the mouth? We do not! Don’t sell yourself short in this the final process and period with your employer and don’t short change your employer either. You’re not going to slam the door shut, nor even quietly pull it to, rather you’re going to leave the door open because, leaving this job does not end your association with this company, nor the future opportunities that association may bring. So, let’s resign – and make a good job of it! After all, Brand Me is a quality product from start to finish …

Remember the 5 ‘Cs’

1. Clarity

Be clear in your mind why you are resigning. Set aside all emotion. Resignation reasons are based upon one (or all) of three considerations:


Consideration of whether this job is (still) a good fit for you. What’s the fit like in relation to organisational culture, your boss, colleagues, the industry, your role? If your attitude to, or relationship with, any of these, feels uncomfortable or ranges from mediocre to plain awful, then it’s not a good fit for you.


Consideration of whether, this job presents a future opportunity or the opportunity to leverage future opportunity. If you see no prospect for advancement, monetary improvement, personal/professional development, diversification, then this is a ‘marking time’ job – and who wants to ‘do time’!


Foremost considerations are those that take precedence over this job. We work to live not live to work! These are considerations which must be accommodated, e.g. relocation, health, family circumstances.

2. Confidence

Clarity brings confidence. Most people have some trepidation when it comes to the crunch: telling the boss that you are resigning. It’s easy to fluff this conversation when feeling flustered or conflicted. Now you are confident that you have made the right decision and the reasons for this, all that remains is to get the resignation process rolling (yes it most definitely is a process).

Your boss will want to know why you are resigning. Naturally, you won’t be saying, ‘I’m resigning because …’

‘… You’re a jerk to work for’

Rather, you’ll be saying, ‘… I have found that I will be a better fit elsewhere’

Nor will you say,

‘… this dead end job sucks’

Rather; ‘… there’s an opportunity I feel will offer good professional development for me’

Instead of saying,

‘… I have to do so much over-time here that I never see my kids and the dog bites me’

You’ll say, ‘… I have the chance of a great work life balance, which will give me more time with my family’

You can clearly and concisely give a diplomatically truthful resignation reason without burning any bridges.

3. Control

Now you’ve set the resignation process rolling, be sure that you control the process.

  1. Stick to your story and exercise the same diplomacy when discussing your resignation with colleagues, staff and clients
  2. The day you resign, follow up with your resignation letter including the last date of work
  3. Obtain the company’s Exit Interview Questionnaire and prepare your responses, remembering that this is the final documentation of Brand Me
  4. Make yourself a Notice Period Plan. Not only do you want to manage a professional handover, you also want to consolidate your network for future use
  5. Organise your leaving event and don’t leave anyone out. You want to leave in an atmosphere of bonhomie, not skulk away!

4. Consolidate

Consolidate Brand Me! You’ve invested your time here, so make sure that you reap the returns.

  1. Agree with your boss on how and when your resignation will be advised to internal and external contacts, as well as who the go-to-person will be until your successor is appointed
  2. Ensure that it is you who informs your staff, clients and associates of your imminent departure
  3. Thank your staff, support department personnel, clients, suppliers
  4. Make sure you have contact details for future networking. Don’t forget the bright young newbies on staff – they may not have a fancy title now, but they will
  5. Make sure your contact details are left with as many people as is appropriate
  6. Do all you can to ensure you stay in the loop during your notice period and remain as fully engaged as you usually would

5. Completion

During your exit interview remain in control and stick to your Brand Me responses. If these absolutely have to include less than palatable bald facts, be sure that you temper them with some positive commentary, e.g. ‘in spite of our differences, I really value what I have learnt from you/the experience’; ‘I will always represent the company positively, even when I am no longer a member of its staff’. Remember – they chose you, if nothing else, you can express your appreciation of that.

The day of your departure, send out an internal Farewell blanket email with a positive note, e.g. ‘it’s been great being a part of the ABC Corporation team’, and end with a message of good will, e.g. ‘I wish you all the best/continued success’.

If you are leaving anyone behind harbouring less than good thoughts about you, well, they’ll seem churlish to voice them and they’ll be in a minority. Brand Me is in great shape! What better way to launch your new career adventure? Look out world, here you come!!

‘Every ending is a new beginning …’  Marianne Williamson

Yvonne Toering is a business development consultant who has worked with leading organisations and brands including Securicor Group, Vodafone Group, ASDA as well as most of the UK’s major high street retail chains including Marks and Spencer Plc, the National Health Service, Royal Dutch Shell Plc, Mars UK, and the Grand Metropolitan Group, owners of Burger King, Smirnoff, Samuel Webster Brewers, Haagen Daas, Cinzano and other iconic brands.