First Christmas, first paid staff member and funding help

Having your first company must be a bit like having your first baby. Here we are, approaching our first Christmas. Everything's new, we're making some mistakes, relishing all the experiences and learning so much every day.

This week we offered a job to our first member of staff through the Future Jobs Fund, which means we'll be reimbursed for their wages for 25 hours per week and they'll receive expert coaching from social enterprise Striding Out.

It's an exciting step. We'll have to set ourselves up to pay National Insurance and monthly wages. And I'll have someone to help me with everything from sifting through tender opportunities to chasing invoices and helping us minimise our impact on the environment. After the first six months, we'll have to ensure we can afford to keep paying her without the Future Jobs Fund help. Quite a responsibility. But my hope is that our new person will more than pay for herself.

The other thing I'm doing right now is trying to secure some more funding to run more Poached programmes in the new year. Strange that as a communications professional I should have so much difficulty articulating my case to a funder. I think the problem is that when you're so close to something it's nearly impossible to see the best way to describe it to someone else. Fortunately, I was offered some free consultancy with PA Consulting through UnLtd. They took a look at a specific funding application and then took me right back to basics in terms of the impact we are having, how and why we're the people to do this kind of work. What a relief! I've now got an outline proposal to work on and a lot more confidence that I can convince funders that we're worthwhile. Well, of course we are.

This week was also our first Christmas party with a mixture of supporters, clients and trainees coming along. Incredible to think that at this time last year, Poached was still just an idea. We didn't have any funding, didn't have anywhere to work from and didn't really have much of a clue. Now we've got clients, trainees, staff, a shared office, an identity and an emerging culture of our own.

Just want to finish, then, with a big thank you to everyone who's helped to get us this far.

PR for the right reasons: a foray to the other side

Well, it's back to business here at Poached after a brief but productive pause. I have a new trainee, Louise, who is working for our new client, Healthy Planet.

This is my idea of Poached-lite now that the pilot is over: just one trainee who's main job is to help me out and make the most of any opportunity that comes their way. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, I'm still working to build business, gain new funding and get us set up for the future.

Healthy Planet has added an exciting new element to our work here at Poached and, in truth, one I was reticent to take on: PR.

What I know about public relations (or dealing with the media, which is what it mainly amounts to) stems from being on the other side of the fence. As a former journalist I know what annoyed me, what was helpful, and what I'd like to receive from a PR agency. But I've always steered clear of 'doing' PR - it feels a bit too much like crossing to the dark side.

There's another way of looking at it though. Right now I'm working for a client who has really interesting and positive messages about people and the environment. They're doing innovative things with technology, schools and businesses to try to gain as much as possible for the environment from the transactions that we would be making anyway - in this case buying gifts and paying rates.

So it's not difficult to want to help get those messages out there. And I'm sure journalists and the public will be keen to hear them. So, here's what I'm trying to do for Healthy Planet in a neat five points that you might find useful too.

1. Make sure the messages are simple and clear. Try not to do too much with the one press release/event/email/etc. People need one message that they can grasp quickly and easily - without having to think too hard or dig around for more information.

2. Think about what the audience will find interesting about it. Ask what's in it for them? Then lead with that. Good journalists will be attuned to their audiences' interests and will be more likely to run the story.

3. Target the message to an audience that has reason to be interested. Wasting your time on people or media outlets that will never want to run your story is also a waste of their time and damages your reputation.

4. Spend time getting the information right. Make sure it's concise, has all the facts, is set out clearly and consistently and has contact details and links to further information.

5. Take a deep breath and go for it. The worst you'll get is silence.

Poached Creative pilot - summary of results

Over six months, Poached Creative helped eight people to gain an understanding of, and skills in, either writing or design. The pilot project aimed to provide experience and a track record for Poached in working with people who were long-term unemployed. It was also intended that the experience would help Poached to begin to build its portfolio and attract commercial clients. From April to October 2009 all the aims were either met or exceeded.

  • 2 trainees completed a graphic design and communications programme
  • 5 trainees completed a writing and communications programme
  • of these, 2 trainees completed twelve-week programmes and 5 completed six-week programmes
  • 1 trainee did not complete the programme
  • 5 of the trainees were referred by the Careers Development Group (CDG), a charity specialising in getting long-term unemployed people back into work
  • 2 were referred from Camden Calling, a social enterprise giving vulnerable people access to the art and music scene
  • 1 trainee found us on a volunteering website.

Trainee outcomes

All trainees improved overall in their own assessment of their knowledge of, and their skills and experience in:

  • interpersonal communication
  • written communication (writers)
  • writing for the web (writers)
  • design principles (designers)
  • file formats and requirements (designers).

Knowledge of writing for the web, web standards and principles and web technologies were the areas that saw the greatest impact in terms of trainee knowledge. For all but two trainees, the experience demonstrably improved their overall confidence and sense of direction. Many of the trainees talked about how the programme raised their self-esteem, helped them find motivation and gave them a sense of pride in what they had achieved.

Some comments from the trainees included:

"I really like the fact that it’s real work that you’ve got to get it right. I was being trusted with that and it really raised my self-esteem - that’s pretty important."

“Confidence in my own ability, interview skills, experience writing for professional organisations, feedback about my writing…I wish it could have been more than one day a week.”

"You've been a huge help in helping me get my confidence back."

"Good just coming into Poached each day and working with everyone. Getting up early and getting into good habits and a routine. It was difficult at first but it got easier."

"For anyone who wants to do anything involving web pages, journalism or writing, I think it’s a good idea."

“Very stimulating.”

"I've learnt loads, loads!"

“It was good, thank you.”

Read the trainee blogs for their first-hand pictures of the programme and their development.

Poached Creative is happy to share its practice with other organisations with similar social goals. If you would like to find out more about the project, or to see the full report, please email us.

Don't forget to pause: reflecting on the Poached pilot

Six months. Difficult to believe it really. On 9 April I was still hastily trying to secure office space with the Careers Development Group (CDG) at Wood Green and on 16 April I began my first day of the pilot with two trainees - both very different from eachother - in a temporary set up at Wood Green library.

It wasn't until the following week that I finally managed to move in to the Wood Green office and this was only because I took the Tuesday off work to go and sit outside the office manager's door until he had a chance to see me and approve the move. All this served to teach me that partnership working is difficult and other people have different priorities to you. It works when you manage to bring them into alignment.

It's about people, stupid
But Poached wouldn't be where it is without partnerships. CDG has been fantastic to us. I maintain that we had the best room in the (rather rabbit-warren-like) building. We had natural light and windows we could open. We had use of desks, chairs and a flip chart holder, and our own kitchen. They were always enthusiastic about the Poached idea and were a great source of people who wanted to take part in my programme. Brij was a CDG recruit, for example, and so was Chris I.

Over the six months I've built up good relationships with the two placement managers I've worked alongside and other office staff who would go out of their way to help me get things set up and sorted out. On my final day of Poached last week I said farewell to the CDG offices with a hint of sadness, but knowing that the personal relationships I've made there will continue to work to both our benefit.

Camden Calling has been the other very productive partnership that sprung up over the six months. They received some UnLtd funding in the same round as Poached and I immediately warmed to Alex and her vision of giving vulnerable people access to the mainstream gig scene in London. I suggested that Poached could help with some of the communication - their newsletter for example - and Alex sent me Chris W who took to the programme like a (poached) duck to water. They also sent us Dan, their illustrator, who soaked up the design training Chris G provided with palpable energy and enthusiasm.

Our connection with a Hackney-based youth information website couldn't have come at a better time. Chris W was coming to the end of his second six-week stint and in need of a new challenge. His interest in music and journalism and his upbeat, characterful writing style made me think that a youth website where he'd get to interview top performers and enthuse others would be right up his street. A mutual ally, Sally from vInvolved, introduced me to Lucy from What's Up Information and we immediately knew wanted to work together. Chris is now happily volunteering for What's Up and Poached will be moving into their creative office space in Hackney in a few weeks.

I can't finish this part of the post without a mention of my first trainee, Angela, who is now doing a three-month internship with Save the Children. She has been with Poached since that first day in Wood Green library and each week we'd have lunch together, discussing life, business and everything inbetween. She's been a fantastic support for me and enthusiast for Poached and I'm absolutely thrilled that she's landed the Save the Children opportunity in an extremely competitive market.

Change is the only constant
Which reminds me that Poached was conceived in a very different economic climate. When I first had the idea back in December 2007, the recession wasn't on anyone's horizon. Jobs in charity and public sector communications were rising and tackling long-term unemployment was a high Government priority because everyone else was looking alright. Fast forward to almost two years later and we've got the highest unemployment figures in 14 years, with the rise in youth unemployment the most worrying trend. On beginning the Poached pilot a year on from its conception, I realised that I needed to prepare people for work, but this might mean volunteering or part-time work rather than a stable full-time job. The focus had to change from employment to skills and getting people engaged in rewarding activities.

Funnily enough, this was no problem for some of my trainees. Chris W and Angela, in particular, wanted to ease their way back into work after severe personal breakdown. Being able to try a few different things, build their skills and confidence, and begin thinking about their future was more valuable for them than being forced into full-time work. Brij, too, was keen on volunteering and was surprised to learn that there were paid jobs in the charity sector that might suit him.

For others, it was work that they needed. Chris I and Rokeya were both very focused on teaching roles, which would be rewarding and offer a stable income. So their Poached programme focussed on improving their communication and writing skills in ways that will be useful to them in a classroom environment. We looked at different styles of communication, ways of structuring writing, and how to put your audience first. Chris I went straight from Poached into a teaching assistant role - all his own doing - and insists he'll use what he learnt in the classroom as well as in his spare time. He's writing a novel!

The ability to tailor what Poached does to help the individual turned out to be very powerful and I intend to keep this flexible, personal model in the next stage of Poached's development.

Keeping it real
Real work that mattered was also a theme that kept coming up throughout the evaluation. The trainees worked on case studies for NHS Jobs, web copy for Room2Heal, blogs, web and promotional materials for Poached and newsletters for Camden Calling as part of their training. They learnt how to change their tone and style to fit the client and the audience. They got to practice writing for a range of different mediums and channels. And they got to see the value of their work to others. What's more, they will all end up with a published piece of work to put in their portfolios.

Poached trainees produced work they could be proud of because we insisted on quality. Constant feedback, explanations and revisions meant that the learning, and the improvement, was tangible. But yes, this takes time. What I've learnt is that time really does equal money and I need to find a way of funding the training time so that we can keep the costs of our commercial work competitive. Looking at the models for doing this, and finding new funding streams, is going to be my next task.

New growth
So Poached is entering a new phase that feels a little like starting all over again, but armed with the knowledge and evidence to propel us to the next level. I know I need to pause and reflect on everything we've learnt so far to inform our development over the next few months. It feels a bit uncomfortable, because my natural tendency is to forge ahead, but I'm taking a couple of weeks to get my thoughts together and renew my energy before ploughing on. Sensible huh? Stay tuned for more adventures and keep in touch.

Jess at

Paying off

Poached Creative has just won its first paying client. A small start, yes, but a milestone that shouldn't go unnoted on these pages.

This is testament to the hard work of the team - me, Chris the designer and Angela - who have all been toiling unpaid for the five months of this pilot.

If there's any one lesson I've learnt from the experience so far it is that no matter what industry or sector you're in or who you work with, cold hard cash is an absolute necessity.

Now we've proved we're capable of earning it I think more will be forthcoming.

I have a bit of a theory of like things. Odd socks for example - just the odd ones, mind - tend to hang about in groups. Don't even try hunting, you'll never find the pair. Flip flops are the same. Find one lone flip flop on the beach and I bet you'll quickly find another in a completely different size and colour from the last. Abandoned shopping trolleys too. Find one floating in a canal and no doubt there'll be another on the tow path nearby.

I think earning money is like that. Attract a paying customer and chances are, if you don't mess it up, more will come your way. Success attracts success and I'm confident that after months of struggling to prove itself and become market-ready, Poached is on the way up.

Twitter, the NHS and other stories

The US healthcare debate and the UK's backlash with the We love the NHS campaign has finally prompted me to join the Twittering masses.

I've been keeping an eye on Twitter for a while now - any communications tool that can mobilise the country in support of our most simultaneously loved and loathed institution deserves some attention.

There are several things that strike me.

1. Even though it looks like it's aimed at nine-year-olds, it's companies that use it most. It suprises me that so many professionals, academics and media personalities take it seriously. (OK, I'm not really surprised about the media personalities.)

2. Its best use seems to be to let people know about something really interesting that they don't know about yet. Why, then, so many people use it to tell their friends what they had for breakfast is beyond me. (But they do - oh yes they do.)

3. It's got tremendous potential as a democratising technology - a free and open platform for anyone to have their say in 140 characters. Basically it promises many of the things the internet promised and didn't quite deliver back in the dotcom days. I love it when people take hold of a technology and turn it to their purposes (so often it's the other way around!) and Twitter's use as a campaigning tool is particularly interesting.

So, I've decided to venture out there into Twitterland, tweeting as my professional self to share links and ideas that might be of interest to people who care about similar things - social enterprise, media, the NHS, unemployment issues, homelessness, good employment practice and such like.

You can find me at

Don't worry, I've only posted one thing so far and I certainly won't be bothering you with what I had for breakfast.

The value of mentors

I'll be honest, I've been flagging lately. There's no real reason for it - everything's been going exceptionally well with the Poached pilot.

We're into the second half and Chris G has put together a really high-quality design programme for our two new, enthusiastic design trainees. I'm getting help and support from my trainees, who are all staying on beyond their original writing and communications programmes to gain more Poached experience. And there are a few commercial opportunities that I'm pursuing (with some high quality help from some of the people I most want to work with).

I've also recently won agreement from my current full-time job to go part time. What a relief! Finally I'll be able to devote the time to Poached that it needs to move to the next level.

But none of this seemed capable of lifting me out of a bit of a slump. I don't mean to sound ungrateful - it's just a fact.

Mentoring magic
This week, however, I think I've broken out of it. Business in the Community has managed to match me up with a mentor and just the first meeting with him has given me a renewed sense of purpose, achievement, and confidence. We're very different. He works for National Rail and basically manages railway lines. Years of experience, hundreds of staff, massive budgets. But we both think we'll get a lot out of this relationship.

Certainly, for me, it's having someone with business know-how who's committed to me for a few hours a month. I can talk through my difficult issues, test out different approaches, and draw on his vast knowledge. I don't feel like I'm putting too many demands on his time because he's already dedicated it.

There's also the power of having someone hold you accountable for the things you set out to do. Most of the time it's only me who'll get annoyed at myself for letting something slip and, of course, when time is tight it's always the longer term planning and development that gets pushed aside for more urgent matters such as training programmes and funding applications.

Immediately I'm reviving discarded business and project plans, going back to my original pilot project proposal and realising how far I've come, and planning out the market research and benchmarking I've been meaning to do.

Unofficial but invaluable
I've been very lucky recently to have several people step in as unofficial mentors, such as Emma Courtney who never fails with encouraging words and her questioning spirit and a new contact, Robert, who I met on that scary leadership programme I told you about. He's insisting I build my networks and contacts and checking up to see if I'm doing it.

Reciprocal support
Of course, in theory I know the value of mentors because I've been trained as one and I am one to many of the people I work with, but it's not until you receive it yourself that you realise just what a force for success a good mentor can be.

More about mentoring can be found on the Mentoring and Befriending Foundation website.

Poached Creative pilot hits halfway point

I thought I'd better put up the results of the first half of this pilot project.

Just to make it clear, I had four trainees but one dropped out mid-way through his training because his partner had a baby. These results are based on the three trainees who completed their programmes a couple of weeks ago.

Early evaluation from the first half of the pilot shows that trainees improved in their own assessment of their skills and experience in:
  • interpersonal communication
  • written communication
  • writing for the web
  • web technologies.
The experience also improved their overall confidence and sense of direction and will give them all at least one published piece of writing to use in their portfolios.

Comments from trainees include:

"My existing skills in things like teamwork, verbal comms, and patience have improved. My writing style has changed totally (for the better!) and I now know how to structure a piece of writing. Also my level of confidence has gone up because I feel I have accomplished something."

"I've gained a lot more confidence in my writing since I started with Poached...I've also been very grateful for Jess's support, especially in terms of my depression."

"I feel more equipped, more confident, more motivated...kind of, more alive as well as more happy."

"I think it's a really good programme as it gives access to this field to people who may not ordinarily get the chance."

Read the blogs of the trainees using the links to your right.

We start a new programme in design next week for two more trainees. Keep an eye on this blog for updates.

Logo and identity

I've been thinking a lot about logos lately - not least because we're trying to develop one of our own.

Now, I'm conceptual and linguistic but not particularly visual so I know that this is one of those cases where I need to trust Chris, our designer, to come up with something excellent.

But I surprised myself with how difficult that was. Logos are something that everyone has an opinion about.

So I started thinking about what makes a good logo and looking, closely, at other people's logos.

One of the best logos I think I've seen recently is for Creative Protege. Apart from the fact that I love what these guys are doing to get fresh new design talent exposed, I think the CP logo is strong, distinctive and makes excellent graphic use of type. I can't help it - even when it comes to graphics I lean towards punctuation, typography, letters and words.

Of course, looking at some of the biggest and best is also useful for understanding what works and Logo Design Love's wonderfully simple logo designs page is a pretty good place to start. And if you're thinking about a logo refresh you can learn a lot from their 10 successful logo redesigns page too. In fact, just look at their whole website.

So what have I learnt?
  • it has to be simple
  • it has to be recognisable
  • it can't possibly reflect everything you are or do
  • it should be clever, but not too clever
  • it has to say something - one thing - about you
  • it has to do it in a way that will reproduce well online, in print, large, small, colour, black and white, and no matter what the quality of the print or materials
  • it has to be bold, beautiful, and practical.
Stay tuned for the unveiling of the new (and very first) Poached Creative logo and identity in the coming month.

Concentrate on where you want to go...or you might hit a rock

Continuing with the mountain sports analogy from last week, one of the most valuable lessons I think I ever learnt about life in general was the advice a young extreme sports maniac gave me when I first tried downhill mountain biking.

For the uninitiated, downhill is about as dangerous and you can get on two wheels. Mountains are great for skiing down in winter and walking up in summer - well that's how I see it. But downhill mountain biking involves riding a chairlift up the same mountain you'd ski down in winter, except now you're clad in body armour, clutching a two-wheeled hyper-suspended contraption and the rolling white soft stuff has melted to reveal hard dirt, gullies and rocks.

This guy had one of those ear piercings that are about as big as a 5p piece and go right through your ear, so I knew he was hardcore, and I hung on every word he said, sure that my life depended on it. His advice was this: "look where you want the bike to go. Choose your path and take it with your eyes - you'll find the bike and your body will naturally follow. If you spend your time looking at that rock over there thinking, 'I'm going to hit it', chances are you'll hit it."

I survived my downhill experience, half riding, half stumbling all the way and the advice has stuck with me ever since. Whether it's running a business, trying to start a career, moving house or some other kind of mad sporting pursuit, focusing on where you want to be and not getting too caught up in what might go wrong is an invaluable tactic.

That's not to say that you're shouldn't be aware of the rocks - you need to choose your path - but don't let them lure you into a fall.

Got some nerve?

I've been making a lot of people nervous lately, myself included.

In the last week or so I've started a new (and quite scary) leadership development programme; taken Angela to meet our client, Mark, from Room2Heal; and had my employee from my other working life, Lou, come to teach proofing at Poached Creative.

In Lou's case it was probably the fact that I - her boss - was sitting in on the training session. We've delivered in-house training together before so it wasn't completely new territory. However, this time I was a commissioner and a participant and she was training people who didn't work in the same organisation as she did. She was concerned about pitching it at the right level, saying the right things, and making it interesting for her audience. Of course, she was brilliant and Brij, Chris and Angela got a lot out of the session.

For Angela, I think it was about not knowing exactly what was expected of her. Meeting with a client to talk about communications for the first time can be pretty nerve-wracking. But we talked through what we wanted to get out of it and what we wanted to ask. Her nervousness actually meant she prepared well and the meeting went exceptionally well.

I was nervous because I was about to be thrown into a learning situation with a bunch of people considered to be 'senior leaders'. I'd never considered myself in this way and I didn't really know what was expected or if my response would be right. It meant I read all the course material beforehand and thought about what I wanted to get out of it before I got into it. I met lots of really interesting, impressive people, and felt I had something to contribute. Phew.

So it turns out that a bit of nervousness is good. Taking yourself, or gently pushing others, outside a comfort zone is the way to learn quickly and feeling a bit nervous helps to sharpen your senses.

Public speakers, swimmers, actors, tennis players and TV presenters have all acknowledged it (I've just spent ages googling for the perfect link but you're just going to have to look it up yourself - Daniel Radcliffe and Pete Sampras stood out of the crowd). And classical musicians seem to know a thing or two about it too. Being a bit nervous means you're not taking things for granted and what you're about to do is important to you. For a real sense of this in action, take a look at Poached trainee Chris' blog.

I had a ski instructor once who said that if we weren't falling over we weren't trying. He felt we should be pushing ourselves to the next level. And that's a bit how I feel at the moment. That sensation of looking down from the top of a very steep mountain feeling part nervous, part exhilarated. Hesitating for a minute, then pushing off...

Keep sight of where you want to go, choose your turns and bend your knees!

There will be time...

It's been a busy few weeks and I had two new trainees start today. Things are really moving on quickly, meaning I've got to work hard to keep up.

First, there's the training. This is priority number one. I've got three people now relying on me every Thursday to give them training, guidance, feedback, work and support. If I do nothing else I have to make sure I get that right.

Second, there's the business essentials. Make sure there's somewhere to train out of. Make sure the paperwork's filled in. Account for the money spent so far. Try to make sure we've got enough computers, the right software, people to train and work to do.

Third, there's the business development. By which I mean business survival. We need more funding, we need paid work, we need organisations that are willing to pay us to train their beneficiaries. I'm finding it difficult to get the time to sort all this out.

Fourth, there's the professional development. I need to learn from this pilot, develop as a leader, influence others, build contacts and maintain existing relationships.

Finally, there's the people. Now if I'd really done this in priority order I would have to put them first because without them, none of this could happen. There's Angela, Jeevan, Chris and Brij, my trainees, who inspire me to get up every morning and work late into the night. There's Saba, Chris and Martine, Claire and Louise, who are all successful professionals in their own right and have volunteered their time to contribute (or promised to contribute) to the training programme. There's Claire, my development manager at UnLtd, without whom I'd have no money (and probably very little sanity). There's Sophy, Chris, Otu and Paul who are all helping in an advisory capacity with their various areas of expertise. There are my contacts at CDG - Michael, Kemi, Darren, James and Natasha who have all helped me get office space and people to train. There are my colleagues and bosses at work (the paid variety) who have been so supportive of this new venture. Then there are all the people - my flatmates especially - who just support me as a person to get all this done.

I'm afraid this is a really boring blog post - it doesn't think of its audience, it doesn't add anything of wider value, no links, no pictures, no particularly stylish use of language - just about everything I've ever told my trainees not to do. But it's going up for the record as a massive thank you to everyone involved so far.

You can't compete with babies

When I spoke to Jeevan at 8.30am he was already on the bus. "My girlfriend's had the baby!" he announced. I'd been prepared for most excuses but even though I knew his partner was expecting, I hadn't anticipated it quite so soon.

In fact, I was hoping he was coming in to Wood Green for training because Saba Salman - a freelance journalist who writes for the Guardian - was coming in to talk about writing feature articles. This was a great opportunity for Jeevan and Angela to hear from someone who'd made a success of writing - on their own terms - and I was keen for them both to be there.

"Well, you don't get a much better excuse than that," said an accommodating Saba when I told her. She's absolutely right.

As numerous politicans have found, you might sidle up to a baby to share their limelight, but in terms of attention, interest and - let's face it - cuteness, you'll never be able to compete with them.

Seriously though, it puts things into perspective. Jeevan might not manage to finish his training with me but he'll be learning a hell of a lot about fatherhood, responsibility and priorities over the next few years. I just hope he writes about his experiences.

The gentle art of delegation

In my seven or so years as a manager, delegation was a skill I developed fairly organically. Like most things I do, I tried to put myself in the shoes of the other person, tried to understand what their questions and concerns might be and tried to make sure I gave them the right mix of freedom to do the job as they saw fit, backed up with instruction and support where needed.

I think my tendency, as a more junior manager, was to learn exactly what needed to be done through doing it myself, then walk the other person through it in detail. This is fine if the person is inexperienced and unsure of their abilities but it doesn't do much to foster self-sufficiency or even to improve what might have been a flawed process.

Over time I've taught myself to step away more and allow the people I'm delegating to the freedom to do things their way - a focus on outcomes over process. There's a very simple graph that illustrates this but the concept of leading an individual or team through the various levels of delegation is actually quite a powerful one.

Done well, delegation can really pay off for both sides. The employee benefits from having the freedom to do a job in a style that suits them and from the chance to develop their skills in a supportive environment. The employer is able to release time for other things and benefits from motivated staff who are continually building their skills and taking on new challenges.

Of course, this could all sound like wishful thinking except for the fact that it actually works. Over the last few weeks Angela has taken on lead responsibility for a major web project, has conducted interviews with case study subjects and is now seeking out two laptops for the new trainees who will start in a couple of weeks. This week she suggested that she'd like to keep volunteering with Poached beyond her 12 week traineeship, which is fantastic news for me.

So, what are my tips for successful delegation?
  • Ask what people want to do and how they want to develop - then find relevant tasks to delegate.
  • Explain why you need something done. Eg, we really need these laptops in two weeks' time and it would be incredibly helpful for me if you could sort it out.
  • Ask for the person's ideas of how to tackle a problem and talk through any differences in approach.
  • Be clear how much responsibility you are delegating. Eg, I'm happy for you to do this however you see fit, or, can you write up a plan and run it past me?
  • Give ample opportunity for questions and clarification.
  • Check that they are comfortable with the task and ask if there's any support they need.
  • Work out together how success will be measured.
  • Check progress.
  • Be sure to give clear feedback using real examples.

People, bureaucracy and making things happen

The first few weeks of this pilot project have been all about making things happen. It sounds simple, but I'm fast discovering a few key rules of running your own business, social enterprise or charity:

1. Things rarely go to plan. Take for example (one of many) my 'next day delivery' PC which was supposed to arrive in the office last Wednesday. A week later I'm still trying to get it delivered in time for Thursday's training.

2. People need chasing. This is true no matter how willing they are to help or how much they want your services. Even your most dedicated supporters and useful contacts need you to chase them because your priorities, by and large, are not the same as their priorities.

3. Bureaucracy takes time. The larger the organisation, the more time you have to allow to get things done. Oh, and the more chasing too - see point 2 above. This doesn't mean you should give up on working with larger organisations. Just that you need to plan ahead and plan for things not going to plan - see point 1 above.

4. It's hard to make things happen. Really hard. Imagine trying to push something really heavy - like a car. Even though it's on wheels you still need a tremendous amount of effort to get it to budge in the first place. Once it's moving things get easier but you still have to maintain momentum or it will stop. This is what it's like.

The upside of all this is that once you get into the habit of making things happen, quite often you'll find that things start happening around you all the time.

One of my inspirations for going into social enterprise was Andrew Mawson, who established the Bromley-by-Bow Centre and wrote a fabulous book about it called 'The Social Entrepreneur'. This first-hand, lively account of crashing through bureaucracy to create something that turned around the lives of the people in his community proves that the social entrepreneurial method of 'learning by doing' is an effective way of making things happen.

I try to apply a little bit of his wisdom in all my dealings with people, bureaucracy, and even the barriers I unconsciously put in my own way.

As Andrew Mawson says: "It is important, simply, to be open and alive to possibility, to encourage people rather than to be suspicious of them, and to see the potential for success rather than the potential for failure."

Why am I doing this?

I'm exhausted. Really.

Today went something like this:

  • get up at 6.30am and go for a run
  • get to work by 9.30am
  • work like mad till about 2pm
  • take half an hour for lunch, in that time make three phone calls and buy a computer
  • work till 7pm
  • meet up with some former colleagues for dinner
  • get home at 11.30pm
  • check Poached emails...

This last part is where I am now and just when I was starting to think, "Why am I doing all this?", I received Angela's first blog post. Her enthusiasm for what we're doing really shines through.

Then she comes out with something like this:

"If there’s one word for how this makes me feel, it’s empowered. I know at the end of this I’ll look at the work produced and feel proud that I’ve seen it through. It’s flattering that someone has the confidence in me to carry out this project."

This illustrates the most inspiring thing so far about working with Angela and Jeevan: seeing how they respond to the challenges we set together.

When I first started working out objectives with Angela I had the standard columns for 'what do you want to achieve' and 'how are you going to get there' but I quickly realised I needed an additional column showing my commitment to support her. Once we had a sense of how much each of us were prepared to put in, there seemed no end to what we could achieve.

I guess it's the sort of thing HR types would describe as the psychological contract, which means I've got a lot to live up to over the next few months but it's more than clear why I'm doing this.

Virtual stalking or communications revolution?

Twitter. It's all over the place. Electing presidents, attempting to rescue lost chums, giving me a sneak peak at my ex-boyfriend's dream bicycle (no, I'm not going to link to that one)...

It amazes me that the ability to ping 140 characters of text into the ether can have so much of an affect on society, individuals and relationships.

The truth is, while I've been hearing about Twitter for a while now, I hadn't actually seen it for myself until a couple of weeks ago. It was the first day of the pilot project for my start-up social enterprise and I'd spent hours preparing the more theoretical component for the day.

The idea was to give both trainees a broad foundation in communications theory - the message, the medium, communications channels, noise, feedback, that kind of thing. Twitter came up when we were talking about internet channels and I confessed I'd never been on it. Jeevan didn't know much about it either, so Angela took over my laptop and gave us both a quick tutorial.

She showed us what it meant to 'follow' somebody (which still seems quite stalker-like to me) how to send a post, and the counter that tells you how close you are to your 140 character limit.

This reminded me of writing news text messages when I worked for Australian Associated Press. Trying to condense a 400 word article into 140 characters without the aid of text-speak was, in fact, really good for developing concise writing. Providing the laws of grammar are heeded, it seems to me that the same could be said of Twitter. Perhaps, alongside the enforced brevity, we could introduce a grammar and spelling check that encourages the use of correct English.

But this still leaves the question of the terminology that builds up around anything web. People using Twitter post 'tweets', apparently, and the most popular tweeters are collectively known as 'the twitterati'. I only really know that through searching the Urban Dictionary - another revelation to me and, again, courtesy of Angela. Thankfully, this is the only dictionary that's currently keeping pace with the rapid rate at which web users create new words.

Our focus turns to web writing next week and I'm sure, once again, I'll be learning almost as much as my trainees.