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So… what have we learnt from Leeds Business Week?

Become a Great Networker in Just One Hour – Colin Tweedie
One of the features of this workshop which I feel confident that I am already nailing is having a good handshake. I am so glad that it was explicitly taught though. Too often I shake hands with people who are unpleasantly limp or who pump your arm so enthusiastically it hurts! As a form tutor, I used to regularly test my kids’ handshakes. It is often either the first or last impression you make on people and it really counts. Having been given a breakdown of what makes a good, firm handshake I am confident that no-one left that room with a flaccid handshake.
But there’s more to networking than shaking hands firmly. We also covered the idea of researching other attendees at networking events in advance. This is not something I had previously thought of doing as it seems a bit stalkery. But actually, information on social media is in the public domain so why not work out who would be good to talk to and then make a point of chatting to them. So much of this seemed common sense – but that’s the most useful advice isn’t it? – straightforward ideas that you can easily implement.
I was also reminded of the importance of using people’s names. Again – it’s not rocket surgery but it’s a very effective thing to do, provided of course you don’t go over the top. Learning and using names was a very basic thing I did when I had interview lessons but it was surprising how many interviewers picked that up as a positive and fed back to me how impressed they were. It’s something, as a teacher, I took for granted. I knew it was important to learn names and I did. So, it was a very useful reminder that everyone likes you to learn their name and use it.
How to Use Linkedin to Generate Leads – Nigel Cliffe
I have struggled for a while to get to grips with LinkedIn. I share my blog on there each week but beyond that I feel like I just don’t get it. I have accepted many, many requests and have a frankly ridiculous amount of followers – all of whom seem to have messaged me with varying degrees of literacy to offer me their services. One ambitious young man even assured me he could improve ‘every aspect of’ my life. A bold claim indeed. It was reminding me too much of internet dating so I started giving it a wide berth. One of the pieces of advice was to cull your following so that you keep people that you are genuinely interested in and who have genuine interest in what you are doing. It’s easy to dismiss advice as obvious but it’s important to remember that just because it’s obvious doesn’t mean you’re doing it! *cracks knuckles… logs in…*
The tips that I am putting into practice are all based on the theory that the focus should be on engagement rather than selling. In that way LinkedIn is similar to other social media. As well as interacting with your now trimmed list of followers, a useful thing to do is ensure that you interact or connect with people who have viewed your page. If it’s free you are only shown the 5 most recent but that just means that you need to check more frequently to make use of this information.
Nigel Cliffe also drew my attention to the social selling index page which measures your effectiveness on LinkedIn. You can click on links to find out more about how you can improve your score which seems a sensible place to start making practical changes to improve my use of LinkedIn.
Out of all the people that attend these sessions Nigel Cliffe claims that only 20% will act on the advice they have been given. What a waste of our own time. We have already spent a great deal of time travelling to and from sessions not to mention attending the sessions themselves. It seems madness to not invest some further time embedding these ideas into our day to day practices.
Avenue HQ – co-working space
I spent a significant amount of time in Avenue HQ this week, making the most of their offer of free desk space and faciilities. As someone who works from home this space was awesome. It gave me important time to reflect and start to practice some of the ideas I’d picked up. I am determined to be one of the 20%!
Building a Business That Provides a Regular, Predictable Income and Cash – Tendo
One of the main benefits of attending this seminar is that I have joined the Facebook group – Business Squad. It’s a Leeds based group who offer support to one another, celebrates successes and shares challenges. It’s a very active group and it looks like a great group to be a part of.
This seminar focused on the reality of running your own business. We all start out with a vision of freedom, of following a passion and a dream and if we’re not careful, all too quickly, we are sucked into a quagmire of long hours and stress about money. Admittedly this is a different quagmire than we were in before – we made this one ourselves. But I’m not sure if that makes it better or worse!
It’s healthy to take a step back and re-focus on your original plan; it is so easy to be blown off course. This workshop afforded me the opportunity to do just that. We also looked at predicting income in advance and how small adjustments to your planning and behaviour can make huge gains overall. After all it is through increasing income that we can buy that dream of freedom and steer our own course.
We were encouraged to consider how we could generate passive income – considering ideas such as: online courses, online content, membership or subscriptions. I use Ko-fi with varying degrees of commitment and subsequently varying degrees of success! Certainly lots to think about and mull over from this one.
The Pitfalls of PR and Making it Work For You – Open Communications UK
Lindsey Davies ran this engaging session. I have to say I have never really considered the difference between PR and advertising. The distinguishing feature I took on board is that PR is free and advertising is paid. It’s no surprise then that I am very keen to master all things PR! There’s a reason I feel at home in Yorkshire.
Lindsey Davies suggests buying the local papers every day for a week so that you can discern what is published on certain days. Then you can actively look for opportunities to engage with journalists in a productive, relevant and authentic way. I have opened a column on tweetdeck which shows tweets with the hashtag #journorequests and filtered it to Leeds so that I can see if there are any relevant requests for articles. I am not going to invest a lot of time here because as chief cook and bottle washer I have to carefully allocate my time-just a quick daily check so that I don’t miss out on any free publicity opportunities.
Brand Bootcamp with Magpie
This was the most useful activity of the week. It was a one-to-one session looking in detail at my brand and discussing possible opportunities and ways forward. There is nothing I can really share from this as it was completely personalised and bespoke. However I would urge you – if you get the opportunity to engage with Magpie, I can’t recommend them enough. If you missed this year’s sessions keep an eye out for them next year. I know I will be.
Empowered Women
The final event of the week featured four female entrepreneurs talking about their personal journeys to success. There were many differences but where they overlapped is worth noting. They all championed the idea of supporting and inspiring other women and continuing on the journey of seeing women more represented at senior levels. They viewed Motherhood as a job in itself, even those on the panel without children acknowledged that at the end of your days work you go back home and start your other job. It was refreshing to hear that shared viewpoint. If you want to watch the full event it was filmed and will be uploaded on Sedulo’s youtube channel soon.
The thing I will take away from this event though is Holly Moore’s statement about core values which was simply
‘Work hard. Be nice.’
An inspiring end to the week.
So to sum up….
The reminder that we should all have in mind a detailed outline of our idea customer (s) – what do they read? where do they go? what do they buy? ran like a thread through all of the workshops. I will definitely be re-visiting and updating this.
Pretty much every session I attended mentioned at some point the importance of video. Again this is something I have known for a while and actively avoided! I am vowing to bite the bullet, eat the frog or whatever analogy you prefer and do some live videos. I am telling you this to force my own hand. If you would like me to tag you in my live to encourage you to do the same, just give me a shout!
There were many more finer details and points of learning in these seminars and I would encourage you to keep an eye out for any opportunities to attend sessions. This is just a taster of what I learnt this week. I think it’s important to distil what you have learnt and put the most accessible ideas into practice; then review and consolidate. At a later date you can build on that and practice other new ideas. Remember habits are most effective when they are tacked on to your existing successful habits. So what are you waiting for… carefully select some stationary and a nice notepad and get planning!

The dog ate my blog post.

I aim to publish a blog every Sunday but sometimes life gets in the way. This week was one such week! So, I just thought I’d let you know what I’ve been up to! Prepare to read an elaborate web of excuses.
Social Media Training
On Monday I found myself delivering social media training with a specific focus on Twitter. I say ‘found myself’ as I’m not completely sure how I ended up with that booking. It wasn’t something I felt comfortable with initially – I took some convincing to do it. My social media knowledge, it turns out, is not as obvious as I thought. Realising you have accidentally learnt a skill is a very good feeling especially as it has come as a by product of getting the business going.
This is exactly how thoughtful and reflective we all looked both during and after the session.
Corporate Training and Team Building
By Tuesday I was back in my comfort zone playing Board Games! Nothing brings a team together more effectively than saving each other from the Zombie hordes. Playing co-operative games with teams is an excellent way for people to practice all the skills they need to be an effective team member: you need to plan your strategies; be flexible – adapt your strategies when you realise you’re all going to die; listen to others – sometimes you will need to take the lead while at other times you need to go with the flow and all of this within a strict 15 minute time scale. Board gaming is an area where it is so much easier to accept that losing is an integral part of learning. We all know the feeling of losing at a board game and then coming back stronger – ‘Right, this time I’m going to…’
Objectively we all accept that learning must involve failure and the more we practice that the easier it becomes to accept in our work. Type failure into your search engine and there are a plethora of motivational quotations and images but it’s not always that easy to accept. I have a poster by the door of our house and it was always up in my classroom when I taught – it contains this Michael Jordan quotation:
“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
Allowing people to fail in a safe, relaxed, fun environment is worth its weight in gold. Fortunately my rates are not *that* high!
The other positive side effect of this is that you come across people who haven’t played board games for years and you are able to re-ignite a long forgotten passion. People talk about getting their old games out and playing with their children when they get home or buying new games to play with friends and family.
Bringing teams together and bringing families together is so rewarding.
Re-igniting my own Passion!
My personal life at the moment has been significantly less fun than the business – arranging elements of my Mum’s funeral along with integrating my son into a new school has left me emotionally wrung out.
On Wednesday Katie from Games Explorers came to my rescue. Sometimes running this business still seems like insanity dressed up as a business plan. So meeting up with someone like minded who has the same or very similar crazy ideas is not only comforting but inspiring too. We met at Geek Retreat in Leeds and discussed our plans and schemes which now include plans to collaborate at some point. And inevitably at some point… take over the world. We’re still debating who’ll be Pinky and who’s the Brain!
Being self employed it is very easy to be blown off course and lose your way. This was such a good opportunity to refocus.
While I was in Geek Retreat I also finalised plans to launch a fortnightly board games night on Tuesday 2nd October which I’m super excited about. I hope being in the city centre will
A very happy birthday with board games.
I drove to Scarborough on Saturday and provided the games for a 40th party. I taught people Exploding Kittens, Colour Brain, Crossing, Truth Bombs, Who Did It? and Guess Who (the Guess Who learners were quite small people) amongst others. Buying a job lot of Exploding Kittens has proved a worthwhile investment as I have been able to teach the same game to a large group of people at a number of events and it always goes down well.
I also made a bespoke Guess Who style game using images of the guests. Conclusion: I’m definitely making one for my own wedding! Get in touch if you fancy one for your special event.
Ah, Sunday – day of leisure when my scheduled blog posts itself and all I have to do is share it with the world. Cut to 9pm I’m watching Parks and Recs after a very hectic week filled with all the emotions that exist. I’ll just share my blog I think. What the blog you didn’t write let alone schedule. Oh yeah! That!
I did however have a typically lovely Sunday at Hyde Park Book Club (the official hub of the city these days) playing board games with lots of lovely folks.
This week I’m planning to have just as much fun but with some days off as well!!
We’re at Mrs Smith’s Cafe in Harrogate this Friday for the first of our Family Friday’s tea and board games. (Or dinner and Board Games if you’re feeling posh).
And hopefully some time around Wednesday I’ll write and schedule a blog post – wish me luck!! And as always if you have any questions about any of that lot please give me a shout!

You can find up to date event listings here.

Why Cards or Die?
The naming of businesses.

Writing a blog always feels, at best a little self indulgent and at worst self obsessed. One of the first things people often ask about the business is ‘Why Cards or Die?’ so I thought I would write something down. And, while I wrangle with my anxiety and self doubt, feel free to read this, ponder or disregard it!
The naming of a business is a big deal. This is the first thing people see or hear of you. What was that trite 80s Head and Shoulders strapline? “You never get a second chance to make a first impression”. All the great bloggers and gurus find inspirational quotations from 80s commercials – as well as solutions to dandruff issues. In choosing a name we must consider what impression we are making: does it communicate what we do? what we are about?
I chose Cards or Die primarily because I love a pun. I’m a big fan of a Stalybridge beauty salon called “Tanz’In’Ere”, a Leeds pet shop called “Tyrannosaurus Pets” and the newest addition to Horsforth High Street – a wine shop called “Once Upon a Vine”. I appreciate (now) that there is more to naming a business than choosing a great pun. I hope that a pun communicates something lighthearted and fun. My business is all about connecting people, bringing them together to have fun.
The particular pun I chose was characteristically dark; listening to The Smiths on repeat for years leaves its mark. My two standard responses to “Why do you wear so much black?” are (a) It matches my soul or (b) because black is how I feel on the inside. In 15 years of teaching only one teenager ever got the reference. She replied “Cool, you like The Smiths” and presumably made a mental note never to ask me anything ever again.
And I suppose therein lies another facet of my character. My dry, dark sense of humour doesn’t always translate and I often don’t care – as long as I’m amusing myself that’s all that counts. Except when naming a business, then other people’s responses are paramount.
It was only retrospectively that I learnt that hardly anyone knows that the word dice is plural while die is singular. I had assumed this was common knowledge. It is not. In fact one kind soul took it upon himself to explain to me that I had named the business ‘wrong’. Oh, what it must be like to have that level of confidence!
I like the name and I’m keeping it. Partly because once you make that commitment and start building a brand that people are familiar with it’s best to stick with it. Unless of course you realise that the car you named a Mitsubishi Pajero means wanker or Ford Pinto means small penis. In that case you should definitely go for a rename! Another reason I am so invested in the name is that I commissioned a song by Jonathan Mann (I always intend to do loads of stuff on youtube and it will be great as a theme for videos at some point – anxiety allowing).
Another reason I really like Cards or Die is because I’ve enjoyed designing the logo and the realisation that it’s easy to adapt to suit different seasons or events means I am having a lot of fun with it.
Logo Black Silver Crop
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Easter Logo
I feel like even if you miss the pun at least you know I’m passionate about games! But in a kind of “do what I say not what I did” fashion, I would advise you to always research thoroughly. In a similar vein here are some questions I should have mulled over when naming the business:
  • what do I want to say?
  • what do I want people to know?
  • what is the core ethos of my business?
  • is the name memorable?
  • is the name ambiguous in any way?
  • what impression does it create of me/ my brand?
Address these questions and you are well on your way to developing a brand. All you have to do is come up with a punny name!

Where are we now? Mental health and my small business.

Over a year since our launch and most company directors have to publish a yearly review. But I’m in charge so it’s a blog post! This feels self indulgent and I wasn’t sure whether to write this but then I thought – that’s just the mental health talking – so I’m persisting anyway.
Taking time to reflect.
Since February, not only has the weather been appalling but I’ve also been home with a poorly teenager. Now, if I stay in the house too long, I start to go stir crazy. But I’ve ended up stuck indoors far more than I would like and recently, I had a particularly challenging week. I could feel my grip on my mind slipping through my fingers; everything seemed bleak. I do battle with with my mental health at the best of times but I felt so negative for so much of the time that I was just drained. It all seemed like too much effort.
My partner came to the rescue and worked from home to give me some much needed mental and physical space away from the house and I went out for the day. I decided that what I would do with this valuable time was reflect. So, I took myself to a cafe and spent the day just thinking and planning. I made myself start by writing a list of achievements, then I wrote down where I wanted to be and how I might get there (in small steps). When you are used to voices that tell you how thoroughly rubbish and inept you are, and when you happily subjugate your own needs to those of others (which with a poorly child and ailing parents there is ample opportunity for) then that task becomes a lot harder than it should be*.
*And there’s an example right there. One of the first things I learned on my CBT course was the toxicity of ‘should’. ‘Should’ is a massive stick to beat yourself with. So let me rephrase
… that task becomes a lot harder.
I have decided that each month I am going to make myself complete this process. It’s in my diary, planned in advance with a space (large) to record achievements and goals to evaluate. Even better I made up an acronym – it’s a CAFE day: Celebrating Achievement and Future Enterprise. The day centres on these things, it must be in a cafe and there must be cake. I am a valued employee and a great boss.
Key Achievements
Despite staring at an empty page for a good while, once I started listing achievements I actually had to acknowledge that I have achieved something. My biggest achievement over the past year has been to persevere. In the face of challenge, doubt and sometimes difficult times I have persevered. I have learnt a lot in this past year and I have made mistakes. One of the liberating things has been taking a step back and learning from mistakes rather than berating myself continually; for the most part I have been kind to myself. Don’t get me wrong, I am a kind person where other people are concerned but very often I am not so kind to myself. It can be difficult to like myself when I’m not being kind, not least because that unkind part of me highlights and magnifies my faults for me. It’s like being trapped in some kind of hellish cycle.
It seems a long time since I was planning my launch event at The Abbey Inn last March. And that’s another important lesson that’s reiterated in CBT- reflect on your achievements regularly. Don’t let them slip past you into some homogenous blob labelled ‘I’m sure I must have done a good thing once’.
On a practical level some of my key business achievements this year have been:
  • building a twitter following from about 30 to 1599.
  • built my own website which now has actual subscribers!
  • setting up a facebook page which now has 395 followers and my posts reach 3500 people
  • writing a weekly blog
  • learning about marketing
  • learning to do my own accounts
  • getting regular bookings at pubs and cafes
  • doing a festival, weddings, WI events, Girl Guide meetings, corporate training, and team building in schools
  • making a bespoke game for a charity to use in their training
  • and more bookings coming in all the time
And personally, in my saner, more rational moments I know that I am setting an example for my children; that I am a good, kind and honest parent and that I have done the best by my own parents too.
Dreaming Big
I also took some time to consider my ideals. ‘I’ll know I’ve made it when… ‘ sort of things. I want a business that’s big enough to have staff. Specifically, I want an accountant to do all the maths stuff. I want to expand and employ a small staff on a decent wage so that I can do even more events and reach more people. Really, I want to bring people together with board games – whether that’s strangers at events, or families and friends who struggle to take enough time out of their busy lives to properly connect with each other. So, I want a business that makes a decent profit so that I can pay my share of the bills and see a bit more of the world whilst sharing the board gaming love as widely as I can.
I’d like to say that I’ll know I’ve made it when I no longer worry that I’m an enormous life-sucking failure. But, even for big dreams that’s a whopper!
You can probably deduce from this list that I’m not the most ambitious person in the world. We’ll probably never know how much of that is my natural inclination and how much is attributable to my mental head stuff. So it’s probably not worth worrying about. (Makes mental note to definitely not worry about this. At all. Not even a bit.)
Goals we can achieve
One of the most important goals has got to be better self care. I need to do my physio exercises, eat well and look after my mental health. All easier said than done. Once I get to the top of that helter skelter, I easily and almost comfortably descend into food avoidance, cruelty to self and avoidance of anything that will make me feel better on the basis that I’m not worth the time or I haven’t the energy. I know that self care will always be on any list of goals I set myself, hopefully over time it will become easier to accept that I am worth the effort.
I’ve had loads of valuable support from other small businesses and wherever I can I try to support others. I want to continue to do this and continue to build those relationships face to face and via social media which have been so important to me in this last year.
My aims for the business at the moment are to increase my turnover by getting more corporate bookings, booking in more weddings, a festival or two, maybe some parties too. To increase my reach on social media and to stick to a games budget. No mean feat that last one – if you’re struggling with that you might enjoy this blog.
Next Steps
My small achievable goals; I worked in teaching long enough to know that goals are not enough – they need to be broken down into discrete achievable steps. The type of targets I set myself for the day reflect where I’m at with my mental health. For days where the list starts…
  • physio
  • eat breakfast
  • shower
  • brush teeth
  • make and drink a cup of tea
…well, those days are not my finest. But right now the short term list which me and my boss will review at the end of the month on CAFE day looks more like this:
  • Do more physio (that’s always there!)
  • Increase Facebook likes to 500
  • Increase twitter followers to 1600
  • secure 1 corporate booking
  • secure 1 schools booking
  • secure 1 meeting to show off my bespoke board game to a potential client
  • keep writing a weekly blog
  • keep accounts up to date
  • get the games admin up to date
  • try to get crowned #QueenOf Board Games!
I’ve tried to make it achievable; a mixture of keeping doing the things, and doing new things. If in doubt I just keep doing the thing… and we’ll see when it’s reviewed at the next CAFE day. I know one thing, I’ll make sure my boss is kind to me.
Click on the image below for a link to more Katie Abey motivational goodness.

Get Together with Games

The problem with my elevator pitch is that I never get to the end of it before someone joins in. When I started the business everyone said – you need an elevator pitch. I looked askance and they said – you have to be able to explain the business in less than a minute. (With society’s dwindling attention span that’s probably more like 3 seconds now- but that’s a different blog about how board games will save society). So, I start my ‘pitch’ and before I get to the end I’m in a conversation about board games – I’m scribbling recommendations down in my notebook; they’re asking me for recommendations or we are just reminiscing. But it’s not all reminiscing – the board game renaissance is in full swing.
I’ve been working for this crazy woman for a year now and I have no regrets. I love my new job even when she forgets to give me a day off for two weeks straight. The best thing about my job is bringing people together over board games. (Apart from Monopoly – but that’s a separate blog!)
At one event, a couple worked their way through a series of quickish, ‘light’ games. As they asked me for another recommendation, they shared the fact it was their first date. They had never met in person before. And, it was going well. What more excellent way could there be to get to know someone on a different level than the normal first date chit chat enables you to? Just think what you learn by playing a game with someone: how strategic they are, how serious, how gracious in defeat or victory. And, importantly – whether they are any fun. And this is all extra information – you still chat but if you’re shy and the chat dries up, you have something to focus on and talk about.
When I worked in a hotel in York, working unsociable hours meant I often went to ‘things’ on my own: theatre, cinema, gigs. I enjoyed them but the problem was they were all fairly solitary environments and I would often experience little or no human interaction, even though there were many people there. If there had been games nights or Random Encounter, I’d have definitely hung out there.
I am always so pleased and proud when people turn up to my events on their own. Especially women – as a woman I often felt limited as to where I could go and feel safe so it’s particularly important to me. I want to offer a safe, inclusive space where people can interact with others at a level that they are comfortable with. It’s so lovely to be part of a community where acceptance feels like the norm. That’s not to say we don’t have to work on accessibility and spreading the board gaming love. There are so many people out there working on this – just check my twitter feed, it’s full of hope for an inclusive future. The board gaming world is but a microcosm of the big wide world and if we get it right here then who knows what we can achieve…
Whether it’s at weddings, parties, a quiet night in or a night down the pub – games give us the opportunity to just be together. The pressure to make conversation is removed. We can immerse ourselves in a game – forget all our worries and stresses, ignore the beeping phone and just be.
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#cardsordie bit of escape on New Year's Eve
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All my great gaming experiences are about other people – meeting new people, spending time with ‘old’ friends, teaching and learning new games, remembering old ones. So, dig a game out and get together.
This weekend we’re getting together over a game of Kodama and Koi Pond. Strategy and prettiness; perfect. Then on Monday I’m getting 32 teenagers together for an Exploding Kittens Off – and I can’t wait!
Who are you getting together with and what are you playing? Let me know in the comments below or on our facebook page.
Join Cards or Die at one of our board games events.