Keeping Moving – Testing a Fitbit

So I have to admit, since my post about the Blacklight Run I have become a lapsed exerciser again.  Not totally, I still love my high energy classes with Red Squirrels Zumba twice a week, and go to a local Pilates class with Nikki from Move Better Fitness which I love, but the running has ground to a halt.

I think this is because I am not entirely happy when I am running. I don’t enjoy it but I also worry as I run.  The main reason being my total right hip replacement, which was carried out when I was 36 in 2007.  In the back of my mind I know my hip has a limited lifespan, and running just feels like too high impact.  Basically I don’t want to wear out my lovely titanium and ceramic hip.

My day job is very sedentary.  I basically sit in front of a computer all day either bookkeeping, training or promoting my business.  I need some kind of motivation to keep moving between my fitness classes.

Fitbit Review

So I am trialling a Fitbit Flex which a friend of mine is wanting to sell.  I’m going to see if this piece of tech is the kick up the backside I need to get moving again, and watch my food intake more closely. I am a user of Endomondo and My Fitness Pal, and with both these apps they were very motivational when I first started to use them.  I walked a huge 1300 miles in 2012 by following the 100 miles a month challenge on Endomondo, a fact I am very proud of. But the novelty has warn off and I need something new.

Setting up the Fitbit Flex

Once I realised the app wouldn’t work with my Nexus 10 tablet, it was really quick and easy to set up my Fitbit on my Nexus 4.  I was able to set up my profile with ease and the first thing I did was log my first nights sleep.

You do have to remember via the app to say when you are going to sleep and when you wake up, then the fitbit tracks your restlessness and gives you a great graph to see how well you slept.  Not enough is the answer at the moment!

Linking Fitbit to MyFitness Pal and Endomondo

How the apps fitted together got me scratching my head at first, but with trial end error I soon sorted it out. I had to log into my individual accounts for My Fitness Pal and Endomondo on my PC in order to set up the new link to the Fitbit.

In Settings -> Connect you can link Endomondo to your Fitbit

In Settings -> Connect you can link Endomondo to your Fitbit

Historically I logged my exercise on Endomondo which then fed into My Fitness Pal to ‘buy’ me extra calories   I have now had to switch off this link as Endomondo feeds into the Fitbit app with my exercise, then the Fitbit app feeds this information into My Fitness Pal in the form of a Fitbit Calories Adjustment.  If Endomondo also feeds the exercise into My Fitness Pal then the exercise is double counted.  It makes your stats look great but won’t help much with my weight loss target!  The exercise from Endomondo in My Fitness Pal was also fed back into the Fitbit double counting there too – are you still with me?

Fitbit Calorie Adjustment in My Fitness Pal

Fitbit Calorie Adjustment in My Fitness Pal

I do however love the fact that I can still log my food in My Fitness Pal and this then gets automatically fed into the Fitbit App in the form of a calorie value per meal.  I’ve used My Fitness Pal for years now and I have a database of favourite meals already set up, I am a creature of habit, so I dreaded having to recreate all this in the Fitbit app.  Now I don’t have to.

Early Signs

So early signs that having this new Fitbit will hep me get back on track with being more active are good, as I am itching to get out and increase my step count (currently at 4000 steps at 2pm in the afternoon) , I’ve drunk more water today, and I’m not snacking as I’m back to logging all my food.

Let’s see how long this new inspiration lasts.

Looking Back and Going Forward – 2013 in review.

So it is exactly a year since I posted my personal review How life changes – looking back and going forward so now is a perfect time to look at how I did with those challenges set on 1st January 2013.

I decided last year to start running, and did my last run of 2013 yesterday ( a quick 2 miles to break in gently after the Christmas break) I think we can safely say that challenge gets a big tick!

I  did two 5k races when there was snow on the ground late January and early February, joining my husband and daughter, and at this stage I was still doing ‘interval’ running, alternating walking with running, but these events were cross country and a real challenge.

As I already enjoyed cycling and can swim ( although I hate swimming now as before my hip was replaced swimming was all I could do and I got completely sick of it), with being able to run I had no excuse not to join my friend Jo, husband and daughter at a Triathlon in April.  The distances are short, and it is a great way to try out the discipline and get used to the transitions between swimming, cycling and running.  The 2.5 k run at the event was the first time I had run without needing to stop and walk – another great milestone.  Jo did really well too as she was carrying a small passenger!

Super Sprint Triathlon Medals

Super Sprint Triathlon Medals

In September I entered my 2nd Triathlon, again a short super sprint event for me, and I was very pleased to  improve on my times from April.  Since this event I’ve been running more regularly and managed to regularly run 3 miles round Salcey Forest, sometimes getting very very cold and wet, but I now almost look forward to it and feel very twitchy if I can’t get out and do some kind of exercise.

in 2013 I have also consolidated on my weight loss and got more comfortable at my new lower weight.  I’ve tried to dress better for my size, getting better fitting clothing and lobbing some of those old favourites which just hang on me now.  The running, cycling and Zumba have meant my shape has changed even though the scales have not, so I can feel more confident in my clothes.

With my Forever Living business I gained a promotion in January, and I have an established retail business and I am now growing my team and helping them to do the same.  I continue to drink Aloe Gel daily and take supplements to control my cholesterol, improve my Vitamin D levels and increase my Iron stores.  I am sure I would not have the energy to do all my exercise without the support of these products,  I get tremendous satisfaction from seeing how others have benefited from the Aloe Vera products.  The business is primarily about helping others.

I’ve also been able to encourage and support as my sister has managed to improve her health and lifestyle in 2013, leaving her job and going self employed, and she too now is almost unrecognisable from this time last year.  Kate has lost 3 stone, and improved her health with her change of lifestyle. We had a family party for my brother’s 50th birthday on the 29th December and we had a fantastic time – what a great way to end the year!

Kate and I with our family.

Kate and I with our family.

So what will 2014 bring?  More triathlons and more running definitely as I have the bug there.  I would like a road bike as at the moment I use my mountain bike which is very heavy, the hardest part of the triathlon I find is lifting my bike onto the racking!  I’m not sure I want to increase my distances as although I am doing really well I do have to remember my titanium and ceramic hip is almost 8 years old now, and I don’t want to wear it out, but I can work on improving my times.  I did my first Park Run recently and enjoyed it so would like to do a few more of those.

I’m also a member of Northampton Gilbert and Sullivan Group, and we have our next show week commencing 20th January, which is HMS Pinafore at The Royal Theatre in Northampton.  (Tickets now on Sale!) We did an anniversary show this year singing extracts from our favourite shows, and I had the opportunity to sing the part of The Plaintiff in A Nice Dilemma from Trial by Jury.  My first solo in a packed theatre was very nerve racking, but again I had so many compliments I may try for a main role in next year’s production of The Mikado.

This will be my 5th production this year – and looking back at the photos from when I was in Pirates of Penzance in 2010 just shows me how far I have come in the last 4 years.

Pirates in 2010 and Iolanthe in 2013

Pirates in 2010 and Iolanthe in 2013

Don’t be afraid to ask for advice

Graham hall Today I am featuring a guest blog by Graham Hall of Hall of Finance.  Graham has over three decades of experience in the finance industry  and is an independent banking and business constant.  I met Graham at The Last Hurdle networking event in Potterspury and immediately recognised how his skills could really help a fledgling company.

One of the top mistakes start-ups often make…

 “It sounds very good. I’ll have a think about it and come back to you.”

 What that really means is…

 “Yes I want your knowledge and experience but if you think we can pay £160 for a consultation, you are mistaken – cash flow is very tight!”

 How many times have you been faced with that situation?  And how many times have you done it to another business owner/partner/director who has a service of benefit?

I am amused if your answer was never.

The crux of the matter is:

Cost    v    Investment

Far too many SMEs in the UK wear ‘cost spectacles’, making it difficult to see the big picture let alone envisage judicious planning as an integral part of operations.

Don’t get me wrong: in this day and age we watch spending carefully and want value for money, but that doesn’t mean blocking out expedient associates.  These useful ambassadors offer long term prosperity by submitting advice to safeguard your business.

Investing with us, on a fixed fee basis (£160 = 4 hr time block), means that we deliver more than twice the value via specialist financial planning + negotiating skills. Sadly, we are often called in at the last minute to save companies from bankruptcy.  If only they had called earlier!

Recently we used our commercial skills to secure a deal with a feisty liquidator – settling a dispute of £73,000 with £30,000 spread over a phased repayment period.  That saved £43,000 and gave our client a 10,750% return their investment (excellent value for money after just 10 hours of HoF consultancy!)

So, the next time someone suggests that you should:

  •  invest in a management consultant
  • review systems and procedures
  • re define the business plan

Don’t dismiss them out of hand but ask yourself the following questions:

 1)      Will this benefit my business – if not immediately, at some stage in the near future?

 If YES move to Q2

 2)      What will it cost in terms of time and money?

 If still YES (nothing ventured/nothing gained) then talk to a reputable company with clear pricing policies and good testimonials about how they think they can help you. Compare a few – and then take the plunge!

Thank you for this thought-provoking advice, Graham, and for sharing your own experiences.

Hall of financeTo contact Graham, call 07889 780170 or email graham@halloffinance.co.uk for a free initial chat. That website again: Hall of Finance

Five Tips On Starting a Business

Ashley and Nathan Griffith

Ashley and Nathan Griffith

Today I am featuring a guest post by Ashley Griffith, owner of Operation Entrepreneur, a group dedicated to bringing entrepreneurs together on a whole new level. She’s also the co-owner of eco-friendly bath and body shop The Gnarly Whale.  Read on for Ashley’s five tips on starting a business:

1. Be Confident and Passionate

If you’re not confident and passionate about your business, who will be? You absolutely must believe in your business more than anyone else for it to succeed. If you’re not confident, not all hope is lost. You just need to work out the kinks. Change your policies, switch up your products, enlist help – do whatever you need to do to make sure that you’re confident (even if you’re still learning) when you launch.

 2. Look at the Numbers

For most creative people, numbers suck. And they can take a lot of the fun out of business planning. But knowing your numbers is a huge part of knowing that you’ll be successful and profitable. Create a break-even analysis (with the help of this site, it’s easy) and ensure that everything checks out. If you find your numbers aren’t where they need to be, this will allow you to see where you may need to raise or lower prices.

 3. Create a Business Plan

Not required, but incredibly useful. If you ever need a loan for your business, you’ll need one of these. And if you ever want to hire help with your business, this is a great tool to have for someone to see your business at a quick glance. Not only that, but the business plan is a great way to keep you and your business on track to meet your goals and ensure that you’re always following your mission. The Small Business Association is a GREAT resource for assistance in creating these in the US, or the Federation of Small Businesses in the UK.

 4. Make Room for Growth

Think of ways the current products you have can change. Maybe it’s new features, different colours, or an expanded product line. No matter what, make sure that there is growth opportunity within your business. Trends come and go, so your product isn’t guaranteed to be a hit forever. Have a back-up plan for when your business may need something new to create that wow factor all over again, so you don’t have to start from scratch.

 5. Surround Yourself With Positive Reminders

Have a Pinterest board dedicated to where you want your business to be or products you’d like to someday make. Use inspiration boards in your house. Read blogs or books that are similar to your field of work. Find a group of supportive people such as those within Operation Entrepreneur. Whatever it is – surround yourself with everything you want to achieve. No matter how skilled you are, there will be tough days and your business will most likely not flourish immediately. Find things to keep you going when the going gets tough, and it will get easier.

Blog-SwapThanks for those tips, Ashley. Even though my business has been going for a while now, there are some great tips there for me to follow, too.

Save your business thousands of pounds of National Insurance

Duncan Mitchell

Duncan Mitchell

Today we have a guest post from Duncan Mitchell, a director at CED Accountancy Services, based in Towcester. I wanted to get an expert in to make sure I share the correct and appropriate information with my readers, so here’s Duncan’s explanation of the government’s new reduced national insurance contributions scheme, giving relief to employers on Employers’ National Insurance Contributions. Read on to find out more …

In June 2012, according to the Office for National Statistics, growth in the UK economy slowed, partly because of the extra bank holiday in April that year. The Federation of Small Businesses called for a reduction in National Insurance contributions and company owners indicated to the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) that they would take on more staff if National Insurance contributions were cut. Boris Johnson also applied his extensive economic knowledge to the problem and urged the government to “look at” lowering the cost of National Insurance in an effort to stimulate the economy.

And so, in the March 2013 budget, the Chancellor introduced relief for the first £2,000 of Employer’s National Insurance Contributions for ALL employers from April 2014. This means that the smallest businesses may not have to pay any Employers’ NIC at all.

We must not forget that in 2010 the Coalition government introduced a geographically targeted scheme to help new businesses in the UK. The dividing line as to whether a new business qualifies is very near here. For example, Towcester, Northampton and Brackley qualify for the scheme, while Stony Stratford and Banbury do not.  Under this scheme, for a limited period and subject to meeting certain conditions, new businesses may qualify for a deduction of up to £5,000 from the Employer’s NICs that would normally be due – for each of the first ten employees they take on. This scheme is still in operation and will be until September 2013.

So far, though, the scheme has proved to be a flop. Fewer than 20,000 businesses have applied for the relief, even though the Chancellor had targeted 400,000 over 3 years.

Possibly a reason that take up has been poor is because the reliefs have not been communicated adequately to business owners. At CEDAS we feel we feel it is very important that new businesses are aware of the tax breaks available to them, as for some early-stage businesses the availability and use of these reliefs could be ‘make or break issues’.

The views given in this blog are personal to the author, if you would like to discuss the contents of this post with CEDAS please contact them on 01327 358 866 or take a look at their website.

Networking in Milton Keynes

As I said in my previous post, Making Networking Work, I am a keen networker and get an awful lot from attending the meetings. I am quite choosy about where I go, though, as I could have breakfast, lunch and dinner every day at a networking meeting if I didn’t actually need to do some normal work too!

The previous post focused on networking in Northampton, but I also attend a few meetings in Milton Keynes …

WIBN Milton Keynes – Women only – Meet at Abbet Hill Hotel, Two Mile Ash on the first Tuesday of the month from 12-2pm.

This meeting has the same format as the WIBN Northampton meeting I mentioned in my previous post.  Also members at both meetings get to take it in turns to make a longer 10 minute presentation to the group, and one of the members also runs a ‘training’ slot which usually covers some aspect of business development or ways of making the most of your networking. The Milton Keynes group has recently moved from Stony Stratford and been re-launched, and as such is growing fast.  The meetings are informative and fun and also include a buffet lunch in the hotel. I find WIBN a great mix between being more formal and business like compared to the groups which do not demand a membership fee, but also relaxing enough that you feel you can be yourself. You need to commit to come every month to get the most out of these meetings, and bringing guests is encouraged as long as their sector is not already covered. See a list of members and contact details at the WIBN website.WIBN

Business Biscotti – Meet at The Living Room, The Hub Milton Keynes, on the 3rd Wednesday of the month from 9.30 – 1130am.

I have only managed to go to this meeting once, but it is another good meeting for dipping your toe into networking for the first time, as the cost is low but the meeting I went to was fairly busy.  You can just turn up, and tea and coffee is included – but it is up to you to choose who to chat to and if you want to swap cards, as there is no formal part to the meeting. You can find contact details of the Ambassadors who normally attend the meetings on the website.

Coffee and Cake – Meet at Dobbies Garden Centre, Fenny Stratford, every other Thursday from 9.30 to 11.30am.

Run by local IFA Jennifer Nicholls, who is also a Business Biscotti ambassador, this is a great meeting with a mix of the formal and the relaxed. We gather in the conservatory of the garden centre and when everyone has had a chance to enjoy a drink (the cake is optional!) then Jennifer calls us to order and we all give our 1 minute pitch about our business – you will see from my posts that quite a few groups have a 1 minute slot so it is best to have one prepared if you don’t like talking off the cuff.  Once we have handed round cards, people break into smaller groups to chat, which is made easier by the fact that you will have had the chance to decide who you want to connect with during the 1 minute talks. Coffee and Cake has a Linked In group page, or you can email Jennifer for more information on jnicholls@tamarifa.co.uk.

Nova Networking – Meet at Odell House, Newport Pagnell, on the 2nd Monday of the month from 12 – 2pm.

Chaired by Jules White of The Last Hurdle, this is probably one of the most relaxed networking meetings I have been to, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t professional. This is another group which when you join your sector is ‘locked out’ so you need to book in to check if you are able to attend. You need your ‘1 minute’ prepared and we also have a testimonials slot which always shows how much business is being done in the room. It’s a great group to join, as the members are incredibly supportive and there is a vibrant Twitter community which stems from the meetings – look for @NovaNetworkOrg on twitter and check out the website.

I hope that these two posts about local meetings prove useful, and I would love to hear about the networking groups you would recommend, too.

Nova Networking

Nova Networking

Making Networking Work

I am a keen networker, and have been for three years. It serves more than one purpose for me. Apart from the obvious advantage of finding new business leads, I have met and got to know other excellent local business people, I have made good  friends, and it gets me out of the office and gives me the social element that running your own business often lacks. In fact, most of our new customers over the last three years can be traced directly back to someone I originally got to know through a networking meeting.

Once you have met someone through networking, the best way to get to know them better is to have a follow-up meeting or a one-to-one, where you find out about each other’s business. I tend to meet people in a local coffee shop or for lunch. It is quite often a revelation how much you have in common, or how business ideas or possible partnerships can come from these meetings, even when you thought your business was nothing to do with the business of the person you are meeting. I also find it useful to meet people who are in the same business as myself, as we can often refer business to each other, or have extra niches of expertise that can prove very useful.

I find I am regularly asked at these one-to-one meetings which other networking meetings I go to – and what I get out of them – this gave me the idea for a couple of blog posts about the local networking meetings I do attend – to save me copying and pasting the information into countless emails!

Networking in Northampton

Synergy Networking Group – Meet at Yeoman of England, Wootton Village, Northampton 9.30am to 11.30 – usually on a Monday once a month – contact Mandy (mandy@forever-yourfuture.co.uk) for details of the next meeting.

This is a low-cost  meeting (£6 including drinks) which varies in size for 3-4 people up to 15 in the most popular months. It is an excellent first networking meeting for nervous new networkers. We sit around a table in the pub and chat and catch up – and even when the meetings are small they are excellent for getting to know other local business people.Synergy

WIBN Northampton – Women only networking – Meet at The Old White Hart, Far Cotton on the 3rd Thursday of the month – this is a ‘lock out’ group, so you can only attend if your type of business is not already represented – take a look at the website for members and contact details to book.

WIBN Northampton was my first ‘serious’ networking group – and by that I mean the first one I joined for which you need to pay an annual membership fee, although visitors are welcome.  It is more formal in format and members get to present a 1-minute talk about their business to the room, pass business cards and flyers round, and also give testimonials about work done by other members. It is a great place to take a prospective client, as if you are established in the group other members will most likely say great things about you!  You need to commit to attending every month if you join, but it is well worth it, as the connections you make can go far.WIBN

Northampton Business Breakfast (FSB) – Meet at Westone Manor Hotel, Weston Favell on the  2nd Friday of the Month from 7.15am to 9am. Visitors are welcome and pay a little more than members. email jo@office-octopus.co.uk who is the branch secretary.

There are many breakfast networking meetings in the area, but as a busy Mum with school runs to do I cannot often free my time to go. I visited this group first, though, and really enjoyed the format, the people and the food – so I have now joined the FSB and make the effort to go every month.  While breakfast is being served you have the opportunity to present your business in 1 minute to everyone on your table – so selecting where you sit is important if you want to make new connections. Business cards and flyers can be displayed and handed out round your table too.  There is a talk each month which usually proves interesting and informative. If you wish to visit as a guest, please let me know, as we both get a discount compared to if you just book for yourself! FSB - ogo

I hope my small insight into these three different meetings proves useful. I will follow up this post with a similar Networking in Milton Keynes post soon, as we live directly between the two towns, so I am ideally placed to network in both places.