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Lessons From An Unsuccessful Crowdfunding Campaign


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burnham advertiser In 2013, as one half of a social enterprise duo, I decided to attempt to raise funds for a solar panel. Our sewing unit in India at that time was suffering crippling power cuts and solar panels would have helped combat the situation enormously. My colleague and I had researched various websites and settled on Start Some Good. 

We commissioned someone to make a video detailing the issue currently facing our unit and how it can be rectified. We gave a breakdown of our costs and decided on various gifts for the donors. We approached our campaign with a lot of excitement mixed with trepidation. But after the first week our enthusiasm waned and our repeated emails to our supporters became desperate, even to our own ears.

Feeling increasingly awkward about asking people for help, we let things slide. And when the month long campaign gave up its last breathe, it wasn’t the only one heaving a sigh of relief. In the end we had raised £1027 of our total £6600 sum total.

Looking back, there are several reasons why our campaign failed. And in the next post or two, I will try and explore the reasons for our failure and how we could done it better.

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In Animate


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With Lucy Lee and our respective kids
With Lucy Lee and our respective kids

I first met Lucy Lee over 10 years ago when I was looking for someone to collaborate with and Dom Oliver of Resource Productions introduced me to her. Lucy is a very highly decorated animator and a graduate from the renowned National Film & TV School. I was immediately struck by how lightly she wore her achievements, almost as if she was embarrassed of it. We worked together on a short documentary and our friendship was cemented.

In the intervening years, Lucy and I have been part of training courses, funding applications, have become mothers, hatched plans for businesses, shelved those plans, reworked them again and been through an entire gamut of change. But what’s more, we’ve remained friends throughout.

So when I began making promos, it was natural that I would offer clients the option of animation in their video. Which is exactly happened when I did a promo for Be Happy Preschool recently. And the clients loved the resulting video which includes a lovely little animated sequence .

You can see the promo below. It’s a buzzing little piece, don’t you think?

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Naked Truth


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Spencer Tunick, Newcastle 2005
Spencer Tunick, Newcastle 2005

I have almost always been confident in my skin. I cannot recall a time when I felt I had to hide myself away or been ashamed to leave the house without layers of slap on or felt the need to check my make up every few minutes in my hand mirror. On some days when I am not rushed, I wear a bit of eye-liner. On others, I don’t bother with anything. May be part of me has always known that no one really cares and that everyone is too busy wrapped up in their own selves to be honestly bothered by the state of my eyelashes. Now, I don’t mean to suggest that a) I look like a slob or b) that not wearing make up somehow elevates me to a higher plane not meant for mortals who are obsessed with their looks. I just don’t feel the need for it in the same way as I do not buy laundry softeners or read science fiction. It works for some but not for me. But when I am told that I should wear make up because it ‘hides my flaws’ or that ‘it would give me confidence’, it riles me up no end. My confidence does not come from a bottle of foundation. It does not get smeared along with blush. My confidence does not rely on water-proof mascara or the right shade of eyeshadow. I am someone who has taken her kit off along with 700 others for an art installation*. I don’t believe I have ‘flaws’ in my appearance. I have a body that I look after with regular exercise and diet. And a skin I am happy in. If it is strange to hear a woman say that, may be that is the flaw. *the above image is from the Spencer Tunick art installation at Newcastle in 2005 which I took part in. No, you cannot spot me.

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Is Networking Like Cricket?


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I was at a networking meeting some weeks ago and I met someone who is also a member of BNI. He wondered how I was finding it and when I mentioned that I was finding the infinite rules and regulations rather tricky to negotiate, he said that I had to look at it like a game. To think of it like a cricket match with its myriad sets of rules. The one who plays by those rules but still exercises his/her skill is the one who succeeds, the gentleman declared. He had been with BNI far longer than I had and my understanding of cricket is a little rusty around the edges, that I decided not to counter his argument. I nodded gamely (ha!), sipped my tea and found someone else to pass my business card to.

In the intervening weeks, I have been thinking a bit more about his analogy and concluded that perhaps it is not quite accurate to equate a networking situation to that of a sport. For one, we are not sitting around a table week after week in competition. If anything, we are a ‘only one-per-business’ networking group and our competition is left at the door. So really, we are there as part of a team, supporting each other, or at least that’s the idea.

It follows that there are no winners or losers in this case (now, don’t get pedantic on me and say you could draw in cricket and technically neither team wins or loses). Also, while networking, particularly in BNI the emphasis is on collaborating. There are power teams such as traders who could work together, if they so wish to. Something that cannot happen in cricket, unless you have been bribed which does not happen as cricket is a gentleman’s game.

It would be safe to say that apart from having far too many rules and regulations, some of which is more hindrance than help, networking with BNI and cricket have little in common.

(The image above is a few years old when my son was roped into be a 11th ‘man’ in his dad’s cricket team. The child spent the entire afternoon by the boundary and has yet to recover from the tedium of cricket.)

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On Being The Subject


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Yesterday I got a taste of what my subjects go through when I point the camera at them. I had my photos clicked professionally by the very talented Pennie Withers of Photos By Pennie and it proved at once both an unsettling experience and an exciting one. Unsettling because I have rarely been the subject of a photo project. During my growing up years, we only ever saw a camera when there was a wedding in the family. Back in those days, the expense of having a photograph taken meant that a lot of people were crammed into the frame. More flesh per flash, if you will.

In the intervening years, when cameras became more and more ubiquitous, I rarely had the occasion or the inclination to pose for photos with just me in them. So when I requested Pennie to take a few photos of me in action, I felt as if I was indulging in a luxury. Unaccustomed to being alone in a photo, I was also slightly concerned. But Pennie put me as ease straight away asking me for the sort of look I wanted and for references to photos I liked.

 We had agreed that I would ask one of my friends to come along to the shoot and pretend to be the subject of my shoot while I was being shot (there were no firearms involved in this exchange, I hasten to add). This would mean that I would be more at ease. Pennie had already done a recce of the location and chosen a lovely shady spot for us to set up shoot. When my yoga-teacher friend Kaly joined us, our shoot got underway. I was directed expertly about where to look and how to pose that I gradually let my shoulders drop and for once, enjoyed the experience.
The results are quite special, don’t you think? But it’s bound to be special when the subject’s me. (What me, modest?)
AbhiLifesizevideosMay201504AbhiLifesizevideosMay201527 AbhiLifesizevideosMay201509
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Feasting On Inadequacies


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I was at a networking meeting recently which was exclusively for women, where a good number of businesses around the table offered to make their customers slimmer, younger, better dressed and overall improve their appearance. As I sat there listening to the business pitches and the widespread nods and assents that went round, I was increasingly aware of the things I didn’t have. I had no great skin, no smooth forehead, no high heels, no flat tummy, no arched eyebrows, no waterproof mascara, no fashionable clothes, no defined jaw, no perky boobs, no narrow waist, no slim arms, no even teeth, no shiny hair, no sleek skirts, no smart shirts, no ruched tops, no bright lipsticks, no brown eyeshadows, not even a fancy perfume named after a footballer.

In fact, it was a miracle I had even been allowed out in public. I hung my head in bitter shame and dragged my wretched self to the car (okay, I embroider the picture a little bit but I need to heighten my reaction so the denouement reads sweeter). My heart heaved heavy as I lifted my hands to turn on the radio. And there was Nina Simone listing, belting out all that she had.

Soon all my inadequacies melted away as I got singing to Nina celebrating that I had my arms, my legs, my boobies, my head and the hair on it, my liver and my life that depended on it. The cloud lifted, the sun broke through, I grabbed the steering wheel with my calloused fingers and pressed down the pedal with my flat shoes and thought, what could be better?* Ecoutez!

*there may have been mild exaggerations for poetic purposes

 

 

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Eager Beaver


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BeaversThere are few occasions when I feel more energised than the times I spend in the company of children and young people. I often help out at our Scout group which my children attend. I am also the Secretary of their Managing Committee.

I am lucky to freelance with an organisation where I run workshops for young people. And being part of the community as a volunteer gives me an opportunity to interact with children and learn from their unbridled enthusiasm and abundant curiosity in a manner that can never be rivalled.

For instance, last night our Beaver colony went for a stroll along the river Thames which ended with them running ragged in a play area and tucking into a small portion of chips each. The questions and conversations that I was privy on our walks would leave the best minds in the world buzzing. I was told stories of wizards, taught to spot dogwood leaves and informed of pets that had not died but had gone to live with relatives in far away places.

And for my part, I helped the Beavers hang from too-high playground equipment, push their swings while they bit into chips and topped up their drinks when they were thirsty.

So if you are feeling ragged around the edges, I suggest you spend a little time in the company of some children and young people. Their joyous energies have a funny way of being contagious.

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My BNI Story – 2


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So, after failing to show up for two BNI meetings, I signed up for a third one on a Thursday evening at 8.30 as a dare to myself, just to see if I can keep my word. The meeting was for 0645 the following morning.

Suffice to say that I barely slept that night. I shut the alarm even before it went off, showered and made my way to the meeting. It was bitterly cold and dark and I desperately wanted the whole ordeal to be over and done with. I did not have any business cards with me and for some reason, I didn’t think I needed one (I was only going somewhere to promote my business, why would I need a business card?).

My bigger concern at that point was to not chicken out at the door that these shortcomings didn’t cross my mind. I parked outside the venue, sat in the car for a good while gathering my wits and willing myself to out of the car.

At this point, I have to interrupt the narrative and say that I have taken part in some activities that many would consider daunting and some would consider impossible (more about what those are in another post) and yet, this simple act of being in a room full of strangers and networking with them was shattering my confidence.

Was it because I thought they would find out that I was a fake? A pretender? A charlatan whose mask was barely covering her face? I think, I was grappling with the imposter syndrome and drowning in its wake.

I couldn’t remain  in the car park forever and so, I hauled myself to the door which could have been made out of concrete as I tried to pull it open. I forced myself to smile and prepared to be flattened by an army of super efficient, hyper professional, mega talented business owners. But was instead greeted by a cheerful group of perfectly normal people who seemed pleased to have a newbie in their midst. I made myself a tea and mingled with those in my midst, each appearing ordinary, interested and dare I say it, pedestrian even. I looked outside, it was still cold and damp. My eyes returned to the relentless cheer of the motley group milling about the room and I let myself relax. I would be okay.

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My BNI Story


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I first heard of BNI back in 2007 when a good friend of mine Lucy Lee used to talk about a breakfast networking meeting she had to attend every Friday. I remember thinking what a lot of commitment that required to turn up every week all through the year. I was pregnant at that time with my second child and I had conveniently forgotten what a bigger commitment I was making to nurture and care for another human being for the rest of my life. And instead, I was marveling at Lucy promising to turn up somewhere, once-a-week for a year. Clearly I was not thinking straight.

In the intervening years, I would occasionally come across the BNI logo on some website or the other and would be blind to it in much the same way as I would have considered say, pencil-thin high heels or bleached blonde hair or Star Wars. BNI was just not for me.

It was not until one night in December last year, snuggled under a fog of post-Christmas slump, I wandered on to the BNI Berkshire website. I had a trawl and quickly exited the site. I was right, it was not the place for me to network. All those men in suits who, behind those friendly smiles, were no doubt deadly serious about growing their businesses. While I was…well, wasn’t I hoping to do the same too? It was with some trepidation that I looked at the list of various chapters. And because of BNI’s policy to allow only one person per business, I had to look for a chapter that did not have a videographer on their list. It was not hard and I found one close by which met every Wednesday morning at witching hour (0kay, at 0645 but at the height of winter it felt unforgiving). I signed up as a visitor and then began fretting over my decision.

I spent the next two days in the throes of anxiety. I am not shy or retiring, normally and couldn’t understand why I was feeling nervous. In the end I succumbed and wrote them a terse mail the previous night explaining how my son had suddenly taken ill and how I would not be able to come to the meeting as originally promised. I bet they could see my excuse from a mile away. After sending the mail, I felt worse that I did earlier and the following day, I had signed up to be a visitor at another BNI chapter.

I went through the cycle of anxiety, stress and sending a mail canceling my attendance as son had taken ill yet again. I was plumbing the depths in my own eyes after pulling out for the second time. What chance did I have of growing my business if I could not stand behind my words? How could I be trusted to sell someone’s image when I had shown such little commitment? Who would be interested in what I had to offer when I had demonstrated such incapacity to keep a promise? Okay, may be I was being a little too harsh on myself but I was really annoyed with myself.

Could I ever redeem myself in my own eyes? Would I dare sign up to be a visitor to BNI for a third time and stick to my word? I had faltered twice and I wasn’t about to do it again. May be, I was about to be third time lucky.

(to be continued…)

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Lessons From Climbing


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climbing“Slow, deliberate movements as opposed to jerky, rapid scramble would ensure sure-footed consistent progress”. Not the words of a business guru but those of my climbing instructor. I am doing a 4-week climbing course as part of my plan to learn something new every year (I have so far learnt to row and to sew – no, not together, mind).

I have never been particularly sporty and doing something like this awakens my brain out of its auto-pilot slumber. When I learn, all my faculties are completely engaged and alert and I feel throbbingly alive. As I climb up a sheer wall, I am constantly scanning to assess where I can hold while looking down to see where I am at and where I can move my feet to. This process of regularly checking to note the path trodden and the one to scale, leaves me tethered firmly to the present.

Last night as I listened to the expert talk to our motley group of climbing enthusiasts, I realised that these lessons from climbing may well be applicable to anyone running their own business. After all, aren’t measured movements better than a clueless, blind ascent?