business, Personal

Free Work? No Way

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Me jumping from the Taj at the thought of never doing free work again

I have expressed my ambivalence about doing work for free in the past. But in the present climate, with impending cuts and rising taxes, I thought I’d revisit the subject of creatives being asked to do work for free once more. After all, creative work is often seen as an expendable and therefore there’s every chance that people practising it will be asked to do that for free under austere conditions. Unlike accounting or legal or electrical work which are highly specialised and technical, anyone at a pinch, can take a photo. Or write copy. Or make a video. After all,  all you need is a camera or a computer or a camcorder. But what is overlooked is that it is not the camera that makes the photo but the eye behind it.

So my one word suggestion to anyone who is about ask a creative practitioner or artist to do work for free is this. DON’T. It might be for charity but remember, those that work for charity don’t work for free however laudable the cause. I was recently asked by someone who works for a charity if charities can afford my rates. I told her that that is for the charities to decide and asked if she volunteered her hours there. That shut her up. Several of us give our time away for free to charities whose work truly appeals to our hearts and so please don’t rattle the charity box at us.

If budgets are truly tight, then ask a hobbyist. Ask a niece who wants to build her portfolio to cover an event. Request a friend who has always written well if he can write your newsletter. Photographers and musicians and copywriters have bills to pay and families to feed just like you. The next time you think about asking someone if they’d work  because for free because doing so could lead to potential work in the future, ask if you’d ask the same of a solicitor or a plumber. Would you ask them to handle your divorce for free because it is for a noble cause? Or if they would fix your boiler as it would lead to more paid work in the future? If the answer to that is no, then I suggest you think of ways of scraping together a remuneration for the creative person as well. Because their invoice is in the post.

business, Personal

Plough On

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(image courtesy:

In the Renaissance painting Landscape With Fall of Icarus, the eponymous Icarus is shown falling from the sky while quotidian events continue to occur all around him. Auden wrote a poem about it suggesting people’s indifference to fellow human being’s suffering.

The events of the past week can be akin to a thousand Icaruses tumbling from the sky while the clouds themselves are ablaze. We need to look up from the ploughs we are furrowing to observe, comment and engage with the tumult. It is not simply a case of ‘being positive’ as one Linkedin post today suggested. But to make sense of this anarchy that is unfolding in front of eyes. It is about being present, being alert, being aghast and perhaps some time in the future, finding the courage to be positive.

Simply admonishing others for expressing their fear and their shock over what is happening and beseeching them to be positive no matter what is ridiculous. We have been woken up from a pleasant dream by the clanging bells of dark reality. It’s time to grapple with it and not go back to sleep.


The Underdog Who Lost

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There’s a moment early on in the 90-minute BBC drama Reg based on real life incidents, when Sally Keys wife of the eponymous Reg tells her husband that she needs to pee. It is 2004 and the couple are standing next to their 20-year old son’s coffin which is one of half-a-dozen others of those who were killed in combat in Iraq. Reg asks her why she didn’t go to the loo when they were waiting to be called to say their goodbyes. And she answers that she didn’t want to be gone when they were called as that wouldn’t have been right. It is a telling moment of dark humour of a couple who never really come to terms with the loss of their son.

While Sally descends to drinking and dies some years later, her husband Reg goes on to stand in the elections against the then Prime Minister Tony Blair in his constituency Sedgefield. Reg has little political ambition, will or experience but it is the death of his son, killed in a war that had no public sanction or founded on evidence that fuels his drive. The denouement in the drama is the  loser’s speech (the original speech is above) that Reg gives as a grieving father shortly after the results are announced which a poker faced Tony Blair, along with other contestants, has to listen to. A far cry from the back-slapping sanding ovation that greeted him just a few months earlier when he addressed the joint session of the Congress in Washington. It is a more honest, sincere, personal and grief-filled outcry following Blair’s ill-advised decision to go to war.

Reg a beautifully written, gut-wrenchingly realised drama from BBC. If you are in the UK, you can watch it here until early July.


BNI Members’ Day 2016 – A Review

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Programme from BNI UK’s 20th anniversary celebrations

It was with a slight sense of disappointment that I turned up for BNI’s 20th Anniversary in the UK celebrations last Friday. I had earlier gone through the running order for the day and noticed that among the speakers’ list, there was just one woman. I felt that the organisers should have take conscious efforts to be more inclusive. That said, the sole woman was none less than the phenomenal athlete and Paralympian Tanni Grey-Thompson who spoke with great empathy, candour and humour about her life as an athlete, her role as a mum and more recently as a Baroness in the House of Lords.

She was followed by Andy Bounds who was named ‘Sales Trainer Of The Year’ for 2008. You can see why he got the title. Andy’s boundlessly enthusiastic talk was entertaining and illuminating at the same time. And I took away a lot of tips that I can use in my work. He was followed by James Potter who spoke about being human on Linkedin. I wish he had toned down the theatrics as I found his performance (for that’s what it was) quite annoying and patronising and I switched off pretty early on. The next speaker had to cancel because of ill-health and finally, it was the turn of the man who founded BNI, Ivan Misner. Listening to him, it was easy to forget that Ivan is widely regarded as the guru of modern networking and the head of multi-million dollar business which he started quite modestly from his garage. Such was the ease with which he wore his achievements.

Earlier when I ran into him at the corridor, Ivan asked what I did and what my experience was with BNI. I rattled off a couple of things before he was pulled away by someone else who wanted to meet him. What happened next made me realise why the organisation he founded is so successful. Even though his attention had been diverted from me, Ivan came back to excuse himself to say that he had to go but that it was a pleasure talking to me and that he hoped I would continue to remain with BNI. A small gesture like that reinforced how much it is about the people who make up the organisation and how much they are valued.

As I listened to Ivan talk, I scanned around the room to see several riveted faces. At least a third of the audience was women. I wondered how many of them like me had to arrange for childcare that day so we could be there. I wondered how many had resorted to self employment because the few years that they had taken off to raise their kids was seen as a gaping hole in their careers by employers. I  wondered how many had become their own bosses so they could cheer at sports days and endure Christmas plays.

I looked again at the list of speakers for that day. I asked myself, how much longer we would have to wait to see more diverse leaders on stage. Organisations such as BNI who support entrepreneurs enormously surely must recognise the need for further inclusion and actively work towards visibility of women and minorities in business. It is 2016 and is disappointing that I should even be writing about it.


From Page To Screen

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Walt Disney came up with the idea of a storyboard for the earliest of his animation movies. It helped create a blue print upon which to build the narrative. Years ago when I used to work in advertising, we used to have an artist who would sketch a storyboard for client’s approval and to serve as reference during a shoot. What I remember most about his work was how, regardless of the product that was being advertised, the women he drew in the storyboard were almost always buxom and had an unmistakable oomph about them. Anyway, I digress.

These days, I like to write what I am about to shoot. I don’t have an illustrator but instead let the words create a picture. This storyboard helps give the cameraman – who is usually absent from all my interactions from the client – a very clear idea of what I want out of the shots and therefore, he shoots to an edit. Also, the client knows what to expect.

This is a recent example of a script I submitted to a client who runs a nursery. I told the client that the script was merely indicative and not prescriptive. After all, we had no idea what the kids were going to be doing at the nursery. But with a script in hand, we knew which of those activities to film so they fitted the storyboard.

Little Blues Script - Citizen

And here is how the video turned out.

Personal, stray thoughts

Notes From A Funeral

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P1030884There are few occasions like a funeral that cause you to pause and take stock. A couple of weeks ago I was at Bernard Carre‘s funeral. And sitting in the pews in the funeral parlour packed to the rafters with friends and well wishers, watching his daughter play Amazing Grace on flute accompanied by a friend on guitar and humming along to the hymn, listening to Bernard’s wife of 61 years read out about her life with him, laying flowers from our garden on the coffin that lay six feet below the resolutely solid ground upon which we stood, I was struck by the futility of my pursuits.

I was also blinded by an epiphany of sorts. I was reminded yet again that people matter, that kindness is imperative, that art and music are necessary, that suffering is inevitable, that joys are abundant, that possessions are pointless and above all, everything, that everyone comes to pass.


Video Blogs – On The Shoot

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Shoot with Jimmy ChooSo you have decided on a subject to shoot and have done the necessary preparations. Now it’s time to shoot. If you are going to film yourself, do look at the framing and appearance and try a few alternatives to see what looks better. But don’t worry too much about framing and angles as professional looking shots will look forced and will take away from the authenticity of freestyle video blogs. That said, I’d highly recommend using a tripod to avoid shakes.

If you are filming someone else, be prepared to react to what they are saying or what is happening. Most importantly, don’t assume that the subject has to be on the screen all the time. Make the viewing interesting for your audience by filming shots that illustrate the story.

So if your subject mentions something during their interview, films shots that capture what is being said later. These shots can be added to the video while editing. A program like Moviemaker will allow you to edit the files easily. Play around with it to see what works.

Finally, remember that this is a visual medium, so as much as possible, show, don’t tell. In the next blog, a few suggested equipments and some tips to improve video blogs.


Video Blogs – Prepare To Shoot

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The easiest thing to do while shooting a video blog is to sit or stand in front of the camera and record yourself talking. But I would encourage you to think carefully about the setting. Dressing the set can say a lot about the subject without needing to explain. While you do not want something too distracting that take the viewer’s attention away from what is being said, you don’t want something plain either.

You could also try interviewing or discussing with another person on camera. Your interaction with them can add for interesting viewing. Also, it is easier to talk to someone in front of you rather than talk to a camera lens. And it allows for conversation. You will find yourself more at ease because there is someone you are reacting to rather than having to perform solo.

In the next post, I will talk about things you can bear in mind while shooting your video blog.


Bernard Carre

Bernard & Francoise Carre with some of the cotton bags they helped produce

You never know why things happen until long after they have happened when you look back and you are able to join the dots. It was March 2010 and my good friend Swarna had come home to celebrate my younger son’s second birthday. She insisted that I meet this extraordinary couple that she had come across quite by chance and who were keen to hand over a social enterprise they were managing to someone else as they were both getting on in age and the cancer they had survived was tiring them. Now, you would sooner survive gale force winds than put up a resistance to Swarna’s powers of persuasion.

So I took her upon her suggestion to meet Bernard and Francoise Carre. Although I agreed to meet them, I made it known that I had no clue about running a manufacturing unit, that too remotely. But given that I was at crossroads in my life then, I thought Swarna and I could have a fair go at it.

Bernard & Francoise had travelled to coastal southern India early 2005, shortly after the Boxing day tsunami. They had gathered medicines and other essentials on their route to India and what they saw there devastated them. They wanted to do something that would provide a means of living for the people, especially the marginalised who had nothing left.

It is remarkable that, despite being in their 70s, despite knowing little about the ground realities of setting up an enterprise in India, driven singularly by the passion to provide sustainable livelihoods to the fisherfolk who’d lost everything to the tsunami, Bernard set up a social enterprise.

The couple had the support of friends and family in the UK and after several stumbles, Vandanamu Fair Trade began trading as an ethical enterprise that produced handmade and handprinted cotton bags in bulk for clients in the UK.

By the time I met with Bernard and Francoise, the fatigue of running the enterprise remotely was starting to tell. And I did not have the heart to say no to them when they asked if Swarna and I would be willing to take over. So over the next few months, after dropping my two children at school and at childminder’s respectively, I would trek to Southampton every Tuesday where I’d spend the day learning from them the pitfalls and the joys of managing a social enterprise.

I’d spend the morning talking and discussing before grabbing a quick lunch and heading back. Those precious few hours always left me marvelling at the remarkable resourcefulness of this exceptional couple. Soon Swarna and I took over the mantle of running Vandanamu which we now called Vandanamu Ethical Cottons. We went through a few turbulent patches before settling down to a more organic phase.

Swarna and I tried very hard to scale the enterprise but for a variety of reasons it did not take off as we had hoped. These days, we continue to manage the sewing unit in India, we have regular clientele but we no longer drive to expand the operations (besides, much of my time is taken up with Life Size Videos).

Over the last couple of years, I drifted away from Bernard and Francoise. We did not see eye-to-eye on several issues (including crowdfunding and calling Vandanamu a business) and I did not keep up the contact with them as much as I perhaps should have. But the learnings I had from them remained. They taught me the importance of not being driven by profit margins. They showed me the nuts and bolts of running an enterprise from afar, while keeping it rooted in social values. They believed in the values of being just and of being good and kind to humans (I’ll never forget their reaction to a particularly shocking transgression on part of a few disgruntled women who worked in our sewing unit. Bernard and Francoise felt that the women had been exploited all their lives, little wonder they were cynical and distrusting of others).

This morning I learnt that after months of deteriorating health, Bernard passed away last night. They say some people leave the world a better place for having been there. And I can say with absolute certainty that Bernard Carre was one of them. RIP.


Video Blogs – What To Shoot

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You don’t need a great big kit to shoot a video blog. I’m just showing off.

In this series of posts, I thought I’d touch upon video blogs that you can add to the website of any small business to create fresh, engaging content. And whenever I mention adding a video diary to someone’s website, they ask, ‘but what do I shoot?’

What sets video blogs (I will continue to call them that as vlog is onomatopoeiac and it’s the sound my son makes when he is sick on long car journeys) apart from other forms of videos is that it is a very personal take on the world and not intended to be journalistic or even, perfect. So what can be a good subject for a video blog for a micro business?

The subject can vary hugely but stick to what you care about. Video blogs do not all have to be serious to be affecting. But something that captures the minutiae of everyday work can be fascinating, funny and engaging. Let’s say, you are a personal trainer. You could do a series of video blogs on the top ten exercises people do incorrectly. And you could show how they could do it right.

Perhaps you are a photographer who has just bought a new piece of kit. Explain what it does and do a brief review of it. Don’t worry about getting it spot on. The important thing to remember is to be authentic and to be yourself.

Perhaps you have a business which does not lend itself well to ‘showing’. May be you are an accountant and let’s face it, a series of XL sheets is not going to look great. Then why not get one of your clients who you’ve helped through some tricky issues (if they are willing to attest for your services without divulging too much). This way you have shown what problems you solve which is always a great way of promoting your services.

In the next post, I’ll write about how to prepare for a shoot. If you have any questions, please comment below.