Author Archive

Committed to the Business and Each Other: An Interview with Sara@StJohn’s

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Being in business with a partner or family member can work brilliantly, but it can also be extremely challenging. Family and couple businesses is an area I specialise in, and Im fascinated how the relationship dynamics can make or break a business.

In my Committed to the Business and Each Other series, I speak to a range of couples and families in business to find out what they feel is the secret to their success.

Today Im speaking to Sara Danesin and David Medio, a husband and wife team from York. You may know Sara from her time as a MasterChef finalist in 2011. After her success on the show, Sara and her husband David set up a foodie business consisting of a supper club, cookery classes and consultancy.

I approached Sara and David to take part in Committed to the Business and Each Other after I attended one of their supper club events. I was so impressed at what a good team they made: Sara delivered a delicious dinner and David was an excellent host and story-teller. If youre thinking about attending one of their events, I highly recommend it! 

Elevator pitch time! Please tell us about your business.

After Sara was a finalist in MasterChef in 2011, David took advantage of a career break from his work as a Marine Scientist to help her set up a food based business. It was quite a change from Sara’s role as deputy sister in ITU at York Hospital! The business included a Supper Club based at their home a stone’s throw away from York Minster, tailor made cookery classes at home, teaching at a number of cookery schools across the UK and being an Ambassador for AGA, as well as developing recipes for a broad range of businesses in the UK and abroad. The Supper Club has hosted more than 4500 people in less than 4 years.

The business is a partnership whereby David deals with most of the business development aspects, accounting and administration, and Sara delivers the goods!

Thinking right back to the beginning, what prompted you to go into business with your partner/family member?

We had 900 requests for dinner at the Supper Club the day after MasterChef ended: there was no real choice but to develop a ‘home based’ venture. Hiring a professional to develop such a business would have been expensive and perhaps would never quite have achieved the same level of effectiveness in cost-benefits nor would it have provided the same level of ‘cosy-ness’. In addition, a home based business meant no overheads: crucial for any start up.

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Did you consider how your relationship would be affected by being in business together?

Not really. We just did it. Sara wanted a change and David had a paid break from work. It was an opportunity that could not be missed.

What kind of business planning did you do?

David did some financial planning to see what break even points were needed to make the business feasible. I guess we were very fortunate in that the Supper Club, which was enough to support the family, had on average a one year waiting list.

Would you say that you and your partner have similar strengths or different ones?

Completely different ones. David is a planner, organised and thinks ahead. Sara delivers top quality food which at the end of the day is crucial. She is also a fantastic teacher when it comes to food: an inspiration to many.

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What has been the biggest challenge to you for working together? 

Spending long periods of time together during the day! This is a first given David has always worked away a lot.

What do you consider your biggest achievement so far? 

Establishing a business that could go on forever with little, if any, overheads, and something that can develop new ideas and last indefinitely. But most importantly, a business that is extremely varied for Sara.

Has working together changed your relationship outside of the business? 

Yes possibly. There has been a lot of tit for tat; and a realisation that one needs separate spaces and time-outs.

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Have you made use of any outside resources to support you? If so, were they helpful? 

Very few. Only occasionally have we hired staff for large events.

What advice would you give to other couples/families who are thinking of starting a business?

Make very robust business plans.

Always look beyond in terms of business development. Never assume business will be static: there is always something that disappears overnight and you must have options up your sleeve.

Do consider how your relationship might be affected.

If you’d like to find out more about Sara Danesin and David Medio you can find them online at www.saradanesinmedio.com. Sara is also on Facebook and Twitter.

Could You Be More Resourceful?

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I’ve got some good news for you: being successful in business doesn’t mean you have to have all the answers all the time!

When my clients tell me they’re struggling to balance aspects of their business, I remind them that they don’t have to do it all themselves. A lot of being a good business owner is having the wisdom to know which tasks you can do well yourself and which tasks it would be better to outsource.

The thing about good advice is that it can be much easier to give than to take. Though I know it’s impossible to do everything yourself, there have been times in the past when I’ve tried! Luckily, over the past few years I’ve come to accept that my business (and my life) is better when I seek support from people around me.

Let me give you an example.

At the beginning of last year I decided that it was time to invest in a brand new website. I wanted to build something that better represented the ethos of Green Shoots Coaching and the varied services I offer.

Now, I’m a skilled coach and funnily enough my talents don’t extend to website development. Obviously this was a situation when I needed to bring in some help! I worked with Pick and Mix Marketing Solutions to design my website and Penement Design to develop it and bring it to life.

Once the website was taking shape, it was time to think about how I would fill it. It would have been easy for me at this stage to decide to create the written and visual content myself. After all, I can write and take photos. However, iI was able to accept that I am not an expert in either of these things and that my time would be better spent doing what I am an expert in: coaching. Instead I chose to work with two professionals: writer Katie M Anderson and photographer Karen Turner.

Of course, I could have chosen to go to an agency who would have handled the whole thing. This would certainly have been less labour intensive, but I didn’t feel it was the right choice for me. I wanted to be able to build my own team of trusted specialists who would be able to create a website that would showcase what I and my business have to offer.

This project taught me a lot about using the resources that are around me. Often this means arming myself with the contact details of great specialists who can help support me to focus on doing what I do best. Since developing my website, I’ve continued to work with trusted specialists when appropriate.

I now regularly rely on the virtual services of Cloud 9 Admin and have even brought in Pro-Development, a people development organisation, to offer extra value to my clients. This last choice turned out to be extremely beneficial, as I have since been asked to support them by offering my expertise to their clients. This kind of cross-pollination is something that I’d love to explore more in the future.

So let me ask you a question: could you be more resourceful? If you were able to build your own team of specialists to support you, how much more effectively would you be able to get your job done? I think you might just be pleasantly surprised.

Are You Confident About What You’re Selling?

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Success in business requires many things; good planning, a strong skill base, a wide network, a heavy sprinkling of luck and a lot of confidence. No matter how solid your business plan, if you don’t believe 100% in what you’re doing, it’s likely that no one else will either.

Unfortunately, I meet a lot of business owners who don’t have confidence in what they’re selling. This is a really common issue that can really be holding you back.

If you’re not completely confident in what you’re selling, it’s likely that:

  • You’re charging less than you’re worth
  • You’re failing to put yourself out there for new opportunities
  • You’re wasting precious time worrying
  • You won’t know what direction to grow your business in
  • You’re hesitating over every decision
  • Your customers will be tempted to go elsewhere
  • You’re not enjoying your business

In my experience there are usually two reasons why business owners aren’t confident about what they’re selling. The first is that they have low self-esteem and the second is that deep down they know there is a fundamental problem with their business.

Reason one: low self-esteem

Let’s tackle the self-esteem problem first. Almost all of us struggle with our self-esteem levels from time to time, but for some people it can start to have a big impact on all areas of their lives. If it’s low self-esteem that’s causing your lack of confidence in your business, this can be a really lonely place to be. One of the key ways to deal with this issue is to get some support.

New: Website Updates

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Today I wanted to draw your attention to a few changes around the website. I’ve been working away behind the scenes to develop a few new options that will make this corner of the internet even more helpful.

The main change is that I’ve introduced a brand new dedicated page for my Taking Care of Business, Taking Care of You membership programme. Over on the new page you’ll be able to find out all about the programme, including how it works, how it could benefit you and how to get started. Why not take a look?

Those of you who’d like to stay up to date with Green Shoots Coaching news might also be interested in my newsletter sign up option. Simply scroll to the bottom of the page and enter your email address to receive future updates straight into your inbox!

Finally, I’ve been working hard to develop a valuable calendar of content here on the blog. Don’t forget to check back every Monday for new articles! My recent favourites include: If You Always Do What You’ve Always Done… Five Ways to Break the Cycle and Are You Prepared for Business Curveballs?

If you have any suggestions for future articles, I’d love to hear them. I’m also on the look out for family and couples businesses who would like to be featured in my Committed to the Business and Each Other interview series. If you’d like to be involved, please get in touch!

What Could Your Employees Teach You About Your Business?

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Your business is likely sitting on an extremely valuable resource you’ve never thought about using. That resource could tell you a great deal about the reality of your business, it could help you evaluate where you are and it might even be able to give you some excellent tips on how to move forward.

What is this resource? Your employees.

I talk to business owners every day. Many of them own SMEs with employees. Most of them have never thought to ask those employees what they think about the business.

As a business owner it would be impossible for you to keep an eye on every single aspect of your business every single day. Luckily, you’ve got those areas covered. Your employees are seeing the things you can’t and they have the benefit of different kinds of experience and expertise. They’re likely to have a whole new perspective on how things are going: and that perspective could be hugely useful to you.

Unfortunately, this valuable information can often be difficult to access. Your employees might not be confident enough to voice their views, or you might not have the kind of relationship that would enable you to ask them.

If this is the case for you, why not work towards empowering your employees to share their opinions? You could try:

  • Planning team building activities to develop work relationships.
  • Introducing a ‘suggestion box’ system.
  • Encouraging group discussion during staff meetings.
  • Improving work satisfaction levels across your workforce.
  • Making time for regular two-way appraisals.
  • Ensuring that your staff feel valued.

You may find that you need to dig a little deeper in order to really benefit from your employees’ perspective. In my experience it can be extremely helpful to work with a trusted support team to find out what your employees have to say about your business. A business coach or consultant would be able to act as a sensitive liaison between you and your employees to enable you to learn more about what’s working in your business and what isn’t. This can be particularly relevant in cases where your employees have feedback to share about your leadership that wouldn’t  be appropriate to share directly with you.

When you make the effort to learn from your employees, either through direct relationship building or with the help of a confidential outsider, you’re likely to gain knowledge that will help to improve your business and build a better relationship with your employees moving forwards.

Are you ready to learn more about your business? Head over to my case studies page and read Tim and Sarah’s story to find out how they did it.

Why Do Family Businesses Need to Make an Extra Effort to Communicate?

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Clear communication is a vital part of any successful business. If you’re not getting your message across effectively to your customers, your colleagues or your employees, it’ll be difficult for them to fully buy into the vision you’re building. It’s equally important for business partners to communicate well, otherwise they could find themselves pulling in two different directions.

It’s important to make this effort to communicate effectively even when you’re part of a family business. But in my experience, this often gets overlooked. If you’re running a business with your spouse, partner or family member, you might expect communication to be easy. After all, aren’t you working with the person who knows you best?

Family businesses tend not to make communication a priority as they assume they’re already on the same page. Assumption is dangerous in business! If you assume that your business partner feels the same way you do about how your business is going to be run but don’t talk about it, you may find you go about things very differently.

Take these few examples:

  • You’ve been quoting prices to clients that include travel costs, but your business partner hasn’t.
  • Your business partner has been keeping careful track of expenses and finances, but you’ve been putting your receipts in a box to ‘deal with later’.
  • You’ve been letting staff work flexible hours, but your business partner has been expecting them to be there between nine and five.
  • Your business partner has been producing content for social media that’s friendly and humorous, but you’re developing website copy that’s formal and authoritative.
  • You’ve been giving clients access to extra support and resources, but your business partner hasn’t been including this.

These examples may seem like small issues, but these kind of communication mishaps can develop into bigger problems very quickly. Small inconsistencies in quoting or services can lead to unhappy customers. Given time, one of these problems could blow up into a conflict between you and your business partner before you even realise there’s a concern.

There’s a very easy way to avoid problems like these: communication. You may find it works best when you formalise it. Family businesses should still expect to hold meetings (in the office, not at the dinner table!), develop strategy documents and agree on business processes. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you know what the other is thinking simply because you know them so well.

If you’re part of a family business and are looking for more support, you might find this earlier post helpful: Nine Resources for Couples and Families in Business.

If You Always Do What You’ve Always Done… Five Ways to Break the Cycle

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I’m a big advocate of the concept that if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.

This is something that comes up a lot when I’m working with clients. From an outside stand point it’s often easy to see that a business owner is getting the same results because they’re putting in the same efforts over and over again. When you are that business owner, however, it can be much more difficult to realise that this is the case.

If you’ve fallen into this trap with your business, it’s likely that it’s seriously holding you back. There’s an obvious solution here, and that’s to try something new. Unfortunately, when you’ve been marketing the same services in the same way to the same people for a certain length of time, it can be really tricky to break the cycle.

Here are five ways to break old habits and try something different:

Look at your business from a customer’s perspective

When was the last time you looked at your business from a different perspective? The way you’ve always done things may work for you, but if they’re not working for your customers you’ll need to rethink. One effective way to do this can be to try and experience what things are like for your customers. You could do this by surveying your customers, asking for honest feedback, or even by hiring a mystery shopper.

Work with different experts

If you work with people such as marketing experts, designers, copywriters and photographers, you might want to consider whether it’s time for a change. There can be a great deal of benefit to be gotten from building working relationships with these people over time… but if what they’re doing isn’t working for you you might want to shake things up. Engaging the services of a new team of experts could help you to do this.

Talk to a coach

It can be difficult to break out of old habits if you’re not sure why you keep returning to them. For example: is it a lack of confidence that’s stopping you from trying something new, or is it because you’re not sure what you’re aiming for in the long term? A session with a coach could help you to address some of these issues and gain more of an awareness of the opportunities that are available for you and your business.

Go back to basics

When was the last time you looked at your business plan and strategy documents? If it’s been a while, it might be a good idea to review them and consider whether there’s anything you want to revisit, anything you want to re-address, or anything that’s been missed out. If you don’t have a business plan or strategy documents, going right back to the beginning and developing some could put you in a very good position to have a fresh start.

Take some time away

Owning a business is extremely full on! When you spend every day inside your business it can seem almost impossible to be able to step back and see the big picture. If your business practices have got a bit stale and you can’t see a way to refresh them, it might be time for you to take a break. Many business owners find that taking a holiday from their business and doing something different can be very inspiring.

Over to you: have you ever got caught in a cycle with your business? How did you break out of it? I’d love to hear from you on Twitter.

The Benefits of Regular Coaching Time for You and Your Business

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It’s not easy running a business. I know this both from my own firsthand experience and from the business owners I work with. There are an awful lot of decisions to make, situations to manage and issues to juggle… and that’s before you even get into doing whatever job it is you actually do.

Luckily, it’s possible to get support. I’m a big advocate of finding a trusted advisor to work with. Ideally, this advisor should be someone you can speak openly to who is qualified to help you work through the challenges that will inevitably crop up.

I am that trusted advisor for many business owners. I’m very proud to be in this position and take the work I do very seriously. Through this work I’ve become passionate about helping business owners to be the best they can be, both within their business and their wider lives. This passion drove me to create my coaching membership programme Taking Care of You, Taking Care of Business.

The main feature of the Taking Care of You, Taking Care of Business programme is regular one-to-one coaching sessions. In my experience, there is a great deal of value in working with a coach on an ongoing basis. It may seem like a big investment to set aside regular time for coaching, but I think the benefits are well worth it. Here’s why.

Regular coaching helps you to meet targets

It’s easy to talk about the changes that need to be made in your business: it’s harder to actually do the work in order to realise those changes. When you meet with a coach regularly, that coach will be able to hold you accountable. This will make you much more likely to find the motivation to work towards your targets!

Regular coaching helps you to grow in the right direction

Growth doesn’t look the same for every business. Ten business experts could look at your business and suggest ten different ways for you to move forward. The question of which direction is right for you is more difficult to answer. If you work with a coach on a more long term basis, they’ll be able to support you to find the type of growth that fits best with your values and your future ambitions.

Regular coaching helps to flag up personal issues

True life/work separation is very difficult to achieve. Instead, it’s likely that any issues in your personal life are having an impact on your business and vice versa. When you build a relationship with a coach, they’ll be able to help you discover whether there are problem areas elsewhere in your life and how they might be having an impact on the success of your business.

Regular coaching helps you to treat the cause, not the symptoms

Businesses often suffer from a variety of issues. In many cases, a handful of initially disparate symptoms may all relate to the same cause. It can be tricky to trace a true cause, and often it’s only through ongoing sessions that a good coach is able to get right to the root of the issue.

If you think your business might benefit from regular coaching sessions, why not take my questionnaire Are You Ready for Coaching?  

Committed to the Business and Each Other: An Interview with RC Bridgestock

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Being in business with a partner or family member can work brilliantly, but it can also be extremely challenging. I specialise in working with Family and couple businesses and I’m fascinated how the relationship dynamics can make or break a business.

In my Committed to the Business and Each Other series, I speak to a range of couples and families in business to find out what they feel is the secret to their success and some of the lessons they have learnt along the way.

Today I’m speaking to RC Bridgestock, a husband and wife team who live on the Isle of Wight and are originally from West Yorkshire. Robert (Bob) & Carol Bridgestock are a co-author team who have written five novels and have consulted on TV dramas including Happy Valley and Scott and Bailey.

I’m particularly interested to hear what Bob and Carol have to share as I’m a big fan of their books and TV work. You may also remember that Phil and Yin Johnson of JJ Associates International (who I interviewed in January) appear as characters in some of the RC Bridgestock novels.

Why did you decide to write crime fiction?

With nearly half a century of combined police experience, we bring unique insight of how real life cases are conducted into fictional stories. This adds authenticity rarely seen in British crime fiction, coupled with warmth, humour and humanity that we experienced during our careers. By reading our stories we hope our readers will be immersed in the world we create just as much as we enjoy imagining it and that our passion for entertaining crime fiction, coupled with our insight into the investigation room of a major case, leaps from the pages.

Thinking right back to the beginning, what prompted you to start writing with each other?

On retirement, Bob received a Certificate from West Yorkshire Police in appreciation and recognition of 30 years ‘Loyal, Devoted and Exemplary Service to the Community’.

During the last 3 years of  Bob’s 30 year CID led police career he took charge of 26 murders, (including the largest multiple murder investigation carried out by W.Y.P in 30 years), 23 major incidents, including drive by shootings, over 50 suspicious deaths and numerous sexual assaults. He was also a trained hostage negotiator dealing with suicide interventions, kidnap and extortion. He taught future CID officers at every rank from all over the world, at the internationally acclaimed West Yorkshire Police force training school in Wakefield.

He was also involved, at Superintendent level, in a protracted high profile investigation of police corruption in another police force, being the most senior officer on site. As a young detective he worked on the Yorkshire Ripper enquiry and the Sarah Harper murder. For his life’s work he received over 25 commendations from high court judges and chief constables who credit him with personal commitment and professionalism, expertise and diligence, as well as competence with skilful leadership in sensitive, complex high profile cases with the subsequent presentation of compelling evidence.

I also worked for seventeen years with the same force as a police support worker. Together we had a vast amount of experience to share and put the world to right on what is correct police procedure. One of Bob’s pet hates is reading a book or seeing a TV drama/film where that was blatantly misconstrued. But, he would never write a factual account with disregard to a real victim of crime, who he feels serves the life sentence. So after being told we ‘should write a story’ by others, we decided to write factual procedure in fictional stories with the thoughts, feelings and experience of those who have been there and worn the t-shirt to try put that straight.

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Did you consider how your relationship would be affected by being in business together before you started?

No, not at all! We love being with each other and are the best of friends, as well as being husband and wife.

What kind of business planning did you do?

Absolutely none. What started out as a bit of a hobby has been a serendipitous journey and who knows where it will end? The evening class to write a book to show the children and grandchildren what our lives in the police were really like turned into a fictitious story with real police procedure (our thoughts and feelings as Jack and Jen to uncover the real man beneath the mask of the detective) and somehow this evolved into the Dylan series…

Would you say that you both have similar strengths or different ones, how do you implement them in the business?

We are not that different in character. Bob and I have the same principles and goals. We are both natural leaders but respect each other greatly, so we’re more than happy for each other to take the lead at any given time. We have a habit of finishing each others sentences – so alike is our thinking – it’s spooky! Neither of us are particularly business minded, we give too much away :-), that’s why we need a very good literary agent, publisher and accountant – all of which we are very lucky to have.

We have different roles in our writing process and both are happy with what the other does so we don’t have any arguments or fights – a lot of healthy discussions though because to us our characters are very much alive.

Bob writes the crime plot of the book from start to finish – I wouldn’t have any idea of how a crime investigation goes even though I worked for the police. From finding the ‘body’ the reader sits on DI Dylan’s (who is very loosely based on Bob) shoulder while he goes through police procedure to catch the perpetrator(s). Then Bob gives, 60/80 thousand words to me and I start at the beginning and give the victim a background, a life, and set the scene for the murder. I also add the family life and personal drama of Jack and Jen (who is very loosely based on me) as I go through the narrative.

Each book stands alone in terms of the crime story, but if you want to read the family saga it is best to start at the beginning of the series with the first book ‘Deadly Focus’.

What has been the biggest challenge to you working together?

Who breaks off what they are doing to answer the telephone!

Outside Gate FilmaWhat do you consider your biggest achievement so far?

Oh, gosh, we have had surpassed so many of our expectations and achieved all of our goals and so much more over the last seven years but the greatest achievement for us both was finishing our first novel ‘Deadly Focus’ and getting it published. Writing over one hundred thousand words is by no means easy, but it’s a hell of a lot easier than finding an agent and a publisher.

Has working together changed your relationship outside of the business?

Our relationship changed for the better the day Bob retired from the police force. No more pagers, calls out in the night or unsociable hours… we were free to do what we pleased for the first time in our married life. We moved 300 miles to the Isle of Wight and once again relished spending time together – although I am usually found up stairs in the office and Bob at the dining room table working these days.

Have you made use of any outside resources to support you? If so, were they helpful?

Our most useful resources have been our family/friends and ex colleagues in all walks of life who have eagerly joined us on our journey – and now they are all very much part of ‘Team Dylan’. From them we gain up-to-date knowledge of various professional enterprises – for us as much as our stories are fictional they have to be procedurally correct in all areas.

What advice would you give to other couples who are thinking of starting a business?

Define your roles from the outset. Set goals that you can achieve and make sure your objectives are shared. Our golden rule is to look for the positive in everything.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Don’t wait till tomorrow to follow your dream. A year on you will wish you had started today… And no one is too old to write. Why not consider writing about your life – if for nobody else but for your children and grandchildren? Don’t you wish your grandparents had written about there lives for you to read?

STOP PRESS! Since Bob and Carol did this interview for me theyve had some very exciting news: the Jack Dylan crime series is going to be made into a TV series! They’ve also been taken on by a new agent who is thrilled to be representing their work.

If youd like to find out more about RC Bridgestock and all their recent news you can find them online at rcbridgestock.com. You can also follow them on Twitter @RCBridgestock, Facebook and Linkedin.

Thank you Bob and Carol for sharing this fascinating insight with us!

Are You Prepared for Business Curveballs?

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In business, as in life, not everything goes to plan. Often our perfectly balanced schedules fall apart thanks to badly timed business curveballs. If you’ve done the work to prepare for these curveballs in advance this is likely to be nothing but an inconvenience. However, if you haven’t got a plan in place for these eventualities, you may find they turn into a much bigger problem.

Below I’ve shared a three step plan for dealing with business curveballs.

Step one: define what could your curveballs could be

The whole point of a curveball is that it’s unexpected, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a clear idea of the kind of issues you might be affected by. Making a list of things that could crop up is a great first step for making sure you’re prepared for them.

Consider things like:

  • childcare problems
  • illness (for you or a family member)
  • family tragedy
  • computer or other equipment problems
  • vehicle problems
  • power cuts
  • website problems
  • email or phone issues
  • customer complaints
  • flood/fire/theft
  • employee trouble

Step two: get your back up in place

If any of these things crop up, you’ll want to make sure you know exactly who to call. If you run a business with employees, this step will be about deciding which of them are prepared to take responsibility for which kind of problems, or who can step in to deputise for you if you have to be out of the office for a while.

Smaller business owners who work alone might find this step trickier, but taking the time to make sure you have people on side will be extremely valuable should you need them. Think of it this way: would you rather find an I.T. support service while your tech is all running smoothly, or would you rather scramble to find someone when your computer is down and you’re losing working hours? The more professionals you have waiting on the sidelines, the quicker you’ll be able to get back up and running should the need arise.

Step Three: design your processes with breathing room

Some of the most frequent business curveballs come in the form of tech problems, childcare falling though or illness. Though these things look different on the surface, they all boil down to the same thing: lost working time. To try and limit the damage these kind of curveballs cause, it can be wise to get into the habit of working with breathing room to spare. The way you do this will depend on the kind of business you run.

If you work within an appointment-heavy field, perhaps you could consider keeping the last appointment slot of the week empty in order to allow for unexpected events. If you work with a lot of retainer clients, you may want to experiment with working a week ahead to allow for delays. Whatever kind of work you do, aim to design your processes with breathing room so that when curveballs do arrive, you’ve got some wiggle-space.

How have you prepared for business curveballs?