In case you didn’t know, (do you not follow me on Twitter or something??), I’ve recently set up a new business with my friend Rin*, an interiors journalist. The essence of our business is to provide marketing and PR training to small businesses, to equip them with the skills and confidence they need to shout about their business, make social media work for them, and get journalists’ attention.

(That sounds rather good doesn’t it? Like a proper grown-up business.)

There are some bits of the business, like registering for corporation tax and taking out insurance, that aren’t exactly thrilling, but there are other aspects that we’ve been really enjoying. If you are thinking of setting up your own business in 2013, these are the parts I think you’ll love:

Choosing a name
So long as no-one else has registered it already, you can choose any name you like for your new business. Any name at all! How cool is that? You could be Dog Bowl Media or Pineapple Chunk Construction Limited – absolutely anything that takes your fancy. We’re called Inside Scoop. Nothing to do with ice cream.

"Media training"

For all your marketing and PR training needs!

Getting business cards
This is possibly my Best Bit. I love all kinds of stationery so getting official business cards is really exciting! Make sure your business card includes all essential information such as your name, business name, website and contact details and do double double check everything is correct before you go to print. Compare prices too – perhaps a local printer and an online service like Instant Print. We went for rounded corners on ours – always the mark of a professional.

Becoming a Company Director
Because we’re a registered company, both Rin and I are now officially Company Directors. Now when I have to write a bio for anything I write ‘Jo Middleton is an award-winning blogger and Director of media training company Inside Scoop’. I’m almost too intimidated to look in the mirror in the morning quite frankly.

Business meetings
I know this is supposed to be the boring bit, but the great thing about setting up a business with a friend is that business meetings are actually coffee and waffles in your favourite cafe with a bit of a chat about something nice like business cards or magazines that we really like or cushions we want to buy. It’s hardly like work at all really. We probably should actually cover more of the work element to be honest.

Do you run your own business? What’s your favourite part of being your own boss?

*This makes me sounds like my mum, who always refers to people as a phrase rather than a name – ‘my friend Andrea’ or ‘my cousin Mandy’.

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When I was first offered the opportunity to review a Google Samsung Chromebook I have to admit I was a little sceptical. I calculated the PC/laptop/smartphone/iPod touch to actual humans ratio in our house to be roughly 3:1. Did we really need another gadget?

Turns out though that I was a little stuck in my ways, and what I really needed was a kick up the technological backside.

It’s amazing really. I’m meant to be a social media expert, yet technology sort of scares me. I like knowing what’s what, and having the same devices doing the same things they’ve always done. The Google Chromebook has taken me out of my ridiculous old-person comfort zone and forced me to experiment and explore just what technology is capable of.

First off, I love the Google Chromebook because it is so damn fast. One of the things that annoys me most about my laptop is that it takes so long to whirr itself into action whenever you switch it on. The Google Chromebook is just there, in seconds, tail wagging, ready to play. This makes it perfect for having lying around on the coffee table – when any of us want to quickly look something up, it’s just so easy.

"Google Chromebook"

Boyfriend tried to explain that this is because it doesn’t get clogged up with software, that everything is stored on a cloud,  but to be honest I still struggle with the idea of the internet, and where it’s all kept, so the thought of my Google Chromebook hovering in the sky above me was all a bit much. “But what if it rains,” asks my friend Ella, aka Purplemum, “and your stuff falls down into someone else’s computer?”

(I suspect these sort of comments make us exactly the kind of simpletons who need something as easy to use as the Chromebook).

It’s light too. I took it out to writing group with me this week and it was just like casually popping a small pad of paper in my bag. The battery life is amazing – two hours into writing group, when my laptop would be on its last legs, and the Chromebook still 83% battery – 6 hours and 27 minutes – left to go.

"Google Chromebook"

Boyfriend likes it because “it just does stuff without Windows cacking it all up.” In fact he likes it a lot. “I’m going to try and secretly make it mine,” he told me yesterday. Not if anyone else in the family has any say in it he won’t.

Bee was rather taken with the Harmony app – basically paint for fancypants. She created this lovely headed notepaper for when she launches her bee-spoke design business:

"bespoke design"

I think you’ll agree it’s a masterpiece.

Belle, I discovered five minutes ago as I searched for Bee’s artwork, has been using our Google Chromebook sneakily before school to take weird pictures of herself. I found a series of 14 pictures, taken between 8.13am and 8.17am, when I suspect I may have been in the shower. These are my favourites:

"Belle"

"Many Belles"

Boyfriend of course uses it mainly for watching really fast, noisy cars on YouTube.

Now at the moment we are all logging on with my Google account, which does make me wonder what exactly my Google friends will be thinking of me. “They’ll all be wondering why you are looking at videos showing you how to take the exhaust off a Saab,” says Boyfriend. (He actually said something far more complicated than that, but I can’t remember exactly what. I think it had the word ‘sump’ in it.)

A few nights ago Bee was playing some sort of shopping mall game. “Why have Britmums come in to comment on your outfit?” she asked me. You can see my problem. I don’t want the world to think I’m some kind of sump obsessed childlike gamer with a penchant for turning her own face inside out. This problem is just laziness though – I need to get us all set up so we can log on with our own accounts.

My favourite app so far is the Hootsuite plug-in. I use Hootsuite a lot, by which I mean all the time in a slightly obsessive way. The Hootsuite plug-in sits on my Chrome toolbar and means I can share content to any of my twitter accounts from anywhere. It really is fantastic. You simply poke the owl, and he* pulls out a comment and a link for you. Easy peasy. (And yes, that is a dancing Stitch on my wallpaper):

"Hootsuite plug-in"

All these things are of course only simple little tools – the Google Chromebook has lots more up its sleeve that I’ve yet to get to grips with. This week I used it to ‘hangout’ with Britmums and Cherry Healey. My next task is to switch my laptop to using Chrome and then sync everything. Fancy.

One of the main publicised drawbacks about the Google Chromebook is the fact that so much of what you do relies on an internet connection but to be honest, how much of your time is spent somewhere with no Wifi?? Plus, there are actually a lot of features than you can use offline. There’s an offline Gmail app so you can compose and read emails, and Google docs and photo files can be edited offline too – all changes automatically updating the next time you’re connected. (You do need to set this up beforehand, so don’t set off on a long train journey and then get annoyed. Just saying.) The Chrome Web Store has a whole section of tools and games that work offline, so you should find plenty to keep you busy even if you’re away from the Wifi.

All in all, I can safely say that everyone in our house loves our new Samsung Chromebook.

Do you have one? What do you think? What would be your top tips for helping me get the most out of it?

*It’s definitely a he

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When I made the decision over three years ago to become self-employed and work from home I have to confess it was on a bit of a whim.

(I know, that doesn’t sound like me does it??)

It was inspired partly by boredom and the desire for a new challenge*, alongside the need, as a single parent, for more flexibility. ‘I know what I’ll do,’ I said to myself, ‘I’ll become a freelance journalist! That’ll be fun’.

I had no money, no experience and no training, but I did have enthusiasm, a desk I hastily bought from ebay, and an extensive collection of stationery items. What more did I need?

Over the next few weeks I spent many a happy hour perusing the magazines in WHSmiths and organising my pens into colour order and before long I had carved out what one could almost describe as a career. If by career you meant ‘bizarre collection of jobs with no real plan for the future’. Job done. Or in my case, very nearly done, possibly tomorrow.

"Pens in colour order"

Ooh, pretty…

My difficulty, in working from home, comes from my apparent ability to be distracted by absolutely anything vaguely shiny or more interesting than what I’m currently doing. When you work from home, it’s amazing how alluring the washing up can become when you’ve got a copywriting deadline on the horizon. ‘Right,’ I will say to myself at 9am, ‘time to get cracking.’ And then I’ll wander off to make a cup of tea.

This year though will be different. (Aren’t they all?)

This year I’m going to try really, really hard to work more efficiently. Really truly honestly I am. (At the same time as losing weight, getting fit and reading the news more often obviously). This is my plan, my New Year resolutions as a work at home mum:

  1. If I am in the middle of doing something, just do that thing. It sounds obvious, but the number of times I go looking for an attachment, get distracted by twitter, start writing a blog post, bake a cake, and then come back two hours later to find I was in the middle of sending an email all along is just ridiculous.**
  2. Be stricter with my hours. Yes it’s lovely having the flexibility of being self-employed, but I need to focus on working the key hours when children are at school and then enjoying my time off without feeling guilty.
  3. Not check my emails and twitter every 27 seconds fearing that something Incredible And Amazing is going to be happening that I’m going to miss. Seriously, get over yourself woman, your life really isn’t that interesting.
  4. Make more of an effort to create a long-term plan. This is going to be a toughie as I have a real aversion to planning ahead. What if I change my mind? What if something else, something better or shinier comes along? Without long-term planning though it is all too easy to just say ‘yes’ randomly to any offers of work without thinking about how they contribute to your career objectives. Or so I’ve heard.

And that’s it. This time next year and all that.

What are your New Year’s resolutions?

*Not to mention a rather disastrous work fling

**It is worth noting that in the middle of writing this post I left to research and buy business insurance, to look at a recipe book and to eat an apple. You see my problem.

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Today I have been doing a Very Brave And Noble Thing.

Biscuit research.

I know, I know, the things I do for you, but you don’t need to thank me, just consider my festive biscuit findings my Christmas gift to you.

Fox’s sent me a selection of their Christmas biscuits to try and I, selflessly, have been testing them out, so I can recommend to you the six biscuits I think you need this Christmas. And I mean need. A Christmas without a tin of chocolate biscuits is like a tumbler without a gin and tonic in it. Just pointless.

So without further ado, I bring you your six essential Fox’s Christmas biscuits:

"Fox's chocolate edition"Milk chocolate jaffa viennese
From the Fox’s Chocolate Edition box, this is a truly wonderous biscuit, topped with jaffa and thick milk chocolate.

Good for: Enjoying all the deliciousness of a Jaffa Cake without the worry of the biscuit versus cake debate. This is definitely a biscuit.

Dark chocolate fudge sundae
From the same box, this is a biscuit for those who mean business. I mean come on, look at the name, it’s practically a pudding in a biscuit. It’s Christmas though. It would be rude not too.

Good for: dieters who want the fun of a massive slice of chocolate cake whilst at the same time being able to say ‘What me? No, I just had a biscuit.’

"Caramel rounds"Caramel rounds
These are so good, they come in a box all by themselves. Crunchy biscuit, gooey caramel, and thick milk chocolate. When Boyfriend saw these he made a strange gargling noise like when Homer Simpson sees a doughnut.

Good for: distracting boyfriends when you have ‘accidental’ January sale purchases you need to sneak into the wardrobe.

"Mini choc party rings"

Mini choc rings
I’m sure I don’t need to spell this one out. They are party rings, but chocolate, and mini. Party rings. Chocolate. Mini. See?

Three desirable biscuity attributes, but all in one biscuit.

Good for: Lunchboxes, so long as you don’t mind getting disdainful looks from the posher mums.

"Jam 'n' cream"

 

Jam ‘n’ cream
This is an odd one for me. There is something about them that sort of turns my stomach a little bit, and yet when I eat them, I want another one. They are my olive of the biscuit world – horribly moorish.

Good for: When you’re feeling daring. Go on, you know you want to.

"Bourbon"

 

The bourbon cream
The Jam ‘n’ cream can be found in the Fabulously Fox’s tin, along with all the classics including one of my all time favourite biscuits – the bourbon. Biscuit perfection.

Good for: Anything. Absolutely anything.

What’s your favourite Christmas biscuit?

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With only ten days to go until Christmas, and vast quantities of food, gifts and decorations littering the house, isn’t it time you deserved a little treat?

Of course it is.

And I’m not just talking a sneaky glass of sherry in the kitchen while you’re cooking. I’m talking about a proper fancy kitchen gadget.

Now, if you’re like me, forever grinding spices by hand and what not, you’ll be secretly hoping that someone buys you a James Martin Wahl spice grinder for Christmas. When you don’t find a spice grinder in your stocking though, (because to be honest, who knew you loved grinding spices so much?), what will you do? Sob into your sprouts?

No!

You’ll enter this competition instead of course. Silly billy.

"Spice grinder"

If grinding spices isn’t your thing, you’ll be pleased to hear you can grind coffee beans in it too. Or simply stick it under the bed and wait until next Christmas, when you can whip it out as a thoughtful gift for the budding chef in your life.

To enter, simply leave a comment on this post, telling me what your favourite spice is. (I like a bit of cumin myself.)

The competition will close on 29th December, to give you chance to enter once you’ve opened your presents and been disappointed.

Good luck!

As featured on Loquax Competitions

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