How not to ask for samples to review (bloggers and youtubers, please take note)

Most of you will know that alongside this blog and Unfurling Your Wings, I also run a stationery subscription company and online boutique,  Ink Drops,  with my friend and business partner Annastasia.

Now, as bloggers ourselves (I have been blogging for just over a decade now so am hardly a newbie), we are no strangers to freebies, PR collaborations and reviews. Though neither of us have been brave enough to venture onto YouTube yet. I think these are in principle a brilliant way to spread the word about companies and products without being at the mercy of enormous corporations.

And I’d like to point out here that we have worked with (and continue to work with) some AMAZING blogs and writers – who we love.

I get, on average across Ink Drops and my own sites, between ten and fifty requests a month for free samples to review on a blog or a YouTube channel. I keep track of every single one of these, reply personally to each one, and maintain a spreadsheet of requests, so that when we do have samples to send out, we have a list of people who we’d like to work with on each site.

However. In between the wonderful collaborations we have, I am heartily sick of receiving ‘requests’ that look like this:

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That is not a request for a collaboration that could be mutually beneficial to the blogger and to our company – that is a lazy, rude and frankly offensive way of asking for free stuff from a small company.

Aside from the tone, there’s no link to the channel it would supposedly be reviewed on, the grammar is bad and the address has no capital letters. Not the greatest of adverts for us if we were to work with them.

If that was a one off, I wouldn’t be writing this post. But I would say 70% of the requests we get are much like this.

No link or stats, a demand for free stuff, an address to post things to and (crucially) no personalisation, even though we more or less ARE our companies and our names and personalities are splashed all over our websites.

I’ll let you into a secret.

I keep notes on the requests we get for free samples (because to a company, especially a small one, they’re not free – we have to account for them and we do need to see some kind of return on our investment).

We have lots of lovely people who get in touch, who have bothered to read our about page, address the email “Dear Carla and Annastasia” or “Hi Carla” and who are clearly genuine stationery lovers or tarot enthusiasts with a real interest in what we are doing. They don’t just want to grab anything free they can get their hands on, but want to create something that both they and we will benefit from.

Guess what? These are the people who get the slots when they become available, the people we want to work with and the people we want to build ongoing relationships with as we grow.

The ones whose emails scream that they can’t be bothered to even read our website, the ones who forward the same emails every few months without trying to build any kind of relationship with us and the ones who are clearly out to get every freebie they can (and believe me, when you get twenty emails a week asking for the same thing, you get to recognise these pretty damn quick) – those get a note which says “don’t send”.

Because why should we send you a part of the company we love, when you haven’t even read our website or bothered to find out our names?

I believe wholeheartedly in blogging and the power of independent bloggers working with small companies and solopreneurs to advertise in a way that is different from all that has gone before. You won’t find a more enthusiastic ambassador for blogging and social media (and, yes, vlogging though I don’t do it myself yet) than me. I’ve been championing it for ten years.

But for the love of all that’s cat shaped on the internet, if you want samples to review, PLEASE put some effort into reading the website first and don’t just send badly written emails to the first few companies you can find.

With love, unicorns and a little bit of weariness,

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My kind of happy

Curled up with a book and a cat. Taking pictures. Writing. Making and eating good food. Time with friends. Pottering, making my home my own. Househunting. Doodling. Dressing up. Daydreaming. Crafting. Learning. Dancing. Collecting. Believing in unicorns.

Be your happy | carlalouise.com

Your happy doesn’t have to match anyone else’s expectations or what anyone else does. Each of us has our own unique combination of things that we love to do, things we quite enjoy and things we’ll tolerate if we absolutely must.

What’s your happy?

 

Creating A Magical Life – the Dream Board

It’s no secret that I’m a great believer in talismans – visual or physical (or both) representations of what means the most to you.

Things you’re aiming or hoping or striving for; things you want to be reminded of; dreams you’re chasing; anything you want to keep in mind.

three-talismans | carlalouise.com

And I’m also a convert to the power of manifesting – or making what you want happen. The concept has undergone a bit of a transformation, from something totally away with the fairies to something more concrete and tangible, and I believe much more socially acceptable than it was a few years ago. (It’s possible I just hang out with very open, likeminded people, but either way I don’t much care what people think – it works for me!)

I’m the biggest fan of magic going, but actually I’m not convinced manifesting is particularly ethereally magical. I think it’s a more practical magic – if you get clear on what you want and remind yourself of this regularly, then you’re much more likely to notice opportunities to make it happen – opportunities that may otherwise have passed you by.

Gratitude and goals lists are already part of my daily routine – usually the last thing I do at night before I put the lights off and snuggle up with a cat on my head (yes, really – Luna-kitty refuses to sleep on the bed unless she’s on my head, purring loudly into my ear. It’s a surprisingly nice way to fall asleep). These tend to be more immediate – things from the day I’m thankful for, things I hope to achieve in the next few days/weeks/months. I have a list for each year too, though I’ve not yet shared that here.

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So when I saw Leonie’s suggestion in her 2015 Shining Year workbook to create a dream board for the year ahead, I jumped on it – a wonderful combination of talisman and manifesting list!

I covered an old noticeboard in pretty fabric, and found a teacup to store my pins. Then I dug out my scrapbooking stash, some precious objects, my 2015 intentions list and my Pinterest boards and proceeded to create a visual representation of the things that mean most to me and the things I intend, hope for, wish for and plan for in the coming year.

Some highlights:

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At the top is my Hogswatch 2014 medal – as one of the outstanding highlights of 2014, and with the passing of Terry Pratchett while I was away in Texas, Hogswatch 2015 in Wincanton is the one event I will be at by hook or by crook this year.

On the other side is a Night Circus inspired embroidery my gorgeous friend Gabby made for me – to remind me to keep my imagination, my dreams and my eclectic style going and not succumb to normality.

Then there are the other pins – ranging from reminders to inspiring quotes to business goals to personal aspirations, skills I want to acquire and experiences I want to have, things that inspire me and beautiful things I’d love to have in my life (velvet cloak, anyone?).

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I add to it constantly, and tick things off as I achieve them too. It lives in my living room, at the heart of my house – and it’s one of the best ways I’ve ever had of keeping track of multiple intentions.

Big thanks to Leonie – I’m already excited to see how it’ll look by the end of the year!

Do you have a dream board? Would love to see…!

Behind the scenes – how I plan and stay organised

It’s no secret by now that I am a stationery addict, and I’m also a bit obsessed with Filofaxes, notebooks and the wondrous world of organising – even though I am one of the least naturally organised people ever.

Back in my uni days I kept all my appointments, engagements and deadlines in what my friends affectionately referred to as my Head Diary. I rarely wrote anything down, but never actually missed anything.

Clearly, the addition of a home, two businesses and a day job, not to mention the kitties and the birthdays/weddings/anniversaries of my loved ones, mean that this is no longer possible – most days I can’t remember what I had for breakfast, never mind what I’m meant to be doing in three weeks’ time!

Enter my Organising Kit For 2015. It’s epic, but it works for me.

Planning on paper

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Filofax: Raspberry leather Finsbury A5

A present from my colleagues when I left the library, I’ve updated this with custom sections and planner printouts, and it’s the hub of more or less everything – it has a section for home, day job and each of my businesses, as well as self development, contacts and money, and sheets for meal planning too.

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Eventually I’d like to split this out into a home planner and a business planner, as it’s getting a bit full, but it’s perfect for now and the colour always makes me smile.

Daybook: Paperblanks Maya blue silver filigree with clasp

The most beautiful notebook in the world, and this year it’s helped me break the habit of buying gorgeous notebooks and then leaving them blank on the shelf.

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This one is with me every day, and serves as one of the two places where I capture all my thoughts, ideas, to do lists and things I’m tracking (including my attempts at inbox zero, but more of that later).

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It’s just bigger than A6, and is hardback so survives being bashed around in my handbag. I haven’t left the house without it since I bought it – and I hope it will be a record of 2015 as well as being the way to catch all my thoughts so they don’t run around my head and drive me mad. I borrowed the idea from Annastasia.

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Out-and-about diary: Simon’s Cat mini diary

More of a social diary than a business one, this has short notes of everything I’m doing scribbled in, so that I can schedule in time with friends and family, or slot in new experiences and days out, when I’m with the relevant people, rather than spending ages emailing back and forth afterwards.

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Plus I love Simon’s cat (and think it should be required reading/watching for anyone considering getting a cat of their own…)

Blog planning: mini diary and A6 notebook

This year I’m trying to make sure I get as many of my ideas as possible out into the world, and I’m experimenting with a dedicated blog notebook and diary set to do this. The notebook is a place exclusively for blog scribblings, but isn’t the only place I keep post ideas. It’s really useful for expanding on an initial idea and getting to draft form though.

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The diary is a week-to-view layout and gives me a better idea of when is a good time to post things – making sure that there’s plenty of fresh posts here, and also that I’m not posting the same subject too often. It helps to plan year-long challenges like the 52 project, and also to make sure any series that I write are evenly spaced out (and that they actually get finished…). I’m still being flexible with exact posting schedules, but so far it’s working well!

Spirituality and knowing wtf the moon is doing: Witches’ Datebook 2015

 

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I’m always subconsciously aware of this stuff anyway, so it’s good to be able to track it – and I’m hoping it might give me some insight into my bizarre up and down energy levels, too. My Saturn return starts in December so I suspect I will be having one of these next year too…

Calendar & wall planner

A calendar in my kitchen has sections for “Life”, “Biz”, “Ink Drops” and “Appointments/Occasions” – meaning I keep up to date with birthdays, Ink Drops post days and the cats’ injections/worming etc. It has a shopping list attached, so I can write down what I run out of immediately, and means I never run out of vital things like cat food, bin bags or chocolate (ahem).

A small wall planner lives on my studio door – it’s less detailed, but means I have an at-a-glance idea of when I’m free and when I can fit things in when I’m Skyping with clients or friends, or writing a sales page or a blog post and trying to work out a deadline.

Digital planning

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Google Calendar

A digital version of all the above put together, I have 14 colour coded calendars and every event, phone call, appointment and social gathering goes into it. It syncs across my home and work PCs, my tablet, my phone and my work laptop, and means I am never trying to guess what is happening on a particular day.

Each month, I print out a new version of the next six months and add it to my Filofax. At the same time, I’ll flick through my various reminders and the list of events/shows/trade shows I want to go to, and note the dates of them – I don’t make it to them all, but it helps me plan around them if I do want to go.

I can also set recurring events and reminders – crucial for not forgetting my MOT again!

Evernote

The digital equivalent of my gorgeous daybook, I have Evernote open whenever I’m on a computer. I keep notes, drafts, clippings from the web, pictures, receipts, photos – you name it, it’s probably in there. It’s the digital catch-all for the jumble of thoughts that is always in my brain, and I’ve found it especially useful for holding something interesting or exciting I’ve tripped over during my day job, until I have time to go and look at it properly at home.

The notebook stacks are also brilliant – for someone who has loads of different interests on the go, plus a near-addiction to lists, it’s lovely to be able to organise them all so easily.

{app} Business Calendar for Android

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This syncs with Google Calendar and is the easiest and most comprehensive calendar app I’ve found – and bizarrely, much more intuitive to use than Google’s own calendar app.

You Need A Budget

I’ve been trying to take my money management more seriously for ages, and as this year I have a lot of outgoings (buying a house!) and am also trying to add to various funds (photography training! coaching! jewellery workshops!) and build up my businesses, I need to track where my day job money vanishes to, and start reversing that process.

Enter YNAB. It’s terrifying to put the figures in in real time (and you can upload your bank statements, so you can’t pretend you haven’t bought things) – but actually, after only a month of using it, it is already making me more aware of my money mindset, and how I don’t actually ever reduce my spending in a category if I overspend in another. Which, of course, is the only way to ensure I don’t go back into my overdraft month after month!

Dropbox

More storage than planning, but I have recently overhauled it to automatically back up my photos from my phone and tablet, which is a weight off my mind, and it is an absolute lifesaver for being able to work on my own stuff at lunchtimes, and for sending big files to friends/clients/colleagues, without trekking endless USB sticks in and out of the office.

I’m also starting to plan my Instagram posts more, and Dropbox is great for that as I can upload direct to Instagram from my phone, even if the original image came from my DLSR and is on my computer.

Dictaphone

I had an old style one for years, and then acquired this one in my final year of uni. It’s brilliant for taking notes while in the car, recording my thoughts out loud and getting a more conversational tone for copywriting (especially for the day job, where I have to do this in really scientific subjects – not my forte!).

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Hardware

A non techie friend commented the other day that my studio at home looks a bit like an international newsroom. Currently I rely on:

one 17.5 inch HP laptop
one main Acer monitor with my laptop acting as second monitor
one Samsung mobile phone (Galaxy S4 mini) with SD card
one netbook which technically belongs to my day job but goes everywhere with me
one Samsung 8 inch tablet which is mine, but which doesn’t hold charge as well as I’d like it to
one Canon 70D and various lenses (separate post on my photography kit coming!)
and one Olympus digital voice recorder – which is rather a nice step up from the tape dictaphone I had for years.

That’s more or less it – I have another set of products for recording and journalling life, but I shall share those in another post.

What do you use to organise your life?

 

Approaching 29

Seven weeks into 2015, and just a few hours from my 29th birthday.

I’m not one to get overly hung up on ages and dates, but I did get a bit of a shock at Christmas when I showed my cousin my 30 for 30 list, and blithely declared I had 25 months left to do it all in. She swiftly pointed out that a) maths clearly isn’t my strong point and b) I had 13 months left, not 25.

Oops.

That list rapidly became ‘daydreams to do’, because my 29th year is already packed full of wonder – there are some things on that list I know I will do in my life, but I also know I won’t do this year – I don’t want to squish in all the experiences, I want to have time to anticipate and then savour each one.

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So what have I learned, in my almost 29 years on the planet? Here’s a list, in no particular order:

Sometimes the things you’re most opposed to can lead to the most glorious moments of your life.

I definitely don’t want children (the cats are quite responsibility enough) – but I’m properly excited for more of my friends to have children, so I can be the cool auntie who brings inappropriate presents and has them over for weekends full of sugar and fun.

Living on my own has been one of the best decisions I ever made. And it isn’t lonely.

Occasionally, you’ll make decisions which will change your whole life and turn it upside down. But mostly, you’ll move towards your dreams step by (sometimes painfully small) step.

We overestimate what we can do in a day, but (massively) underestimate what we can do in a year.

Pets are actually small, furry family members, and just as precious as fellow human beings.

I can tassel twirl. And as part of the Paper Dolls burlesque troupe, I also do it on stage. The shy, gawky, nervous 15-year-old me is staring down the passage of time, awestruck and slightly embarrassed and bloody proud of how I’ve dealt with my body image issues in the last few years.

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I’ve learned we shouldn’t pigeonhole ourselves too early in life – discovering at 19 that I was creative, after a lifetime of being told I was academic and not creative, was the single biggest revelation of my life to date.

If you don’t like your job, get the hell out. Don’t quit without a plan, but start looking – knowing their shit is no longer your problem when you hand in your notice to a place that’s wrong for you is an amazing feeling.

Your first broken heart hurts like hell.

You learn an absolutely ridiculous amount about yourself from relationships and their endings. Seriously, it was like a crash course in How Carla Works, both times – in very different ways.

Never, ever settle for being second best or someone’s backup choice. You are worth SO much more than that.

Try everything that catches your fancy, if it’s possible – I have a room full of craft materials, half of which I’ll probably never touch again, but all of it has brought me joy and new skills at some stage.

Serendipity and coincidence are sweet – and never get old.

Old friends and new friends are just as precious, but in different ways. Don’t abandon the old in favour of the new unless you have good reason to do so. And don’t assume that just because someone is very different to you, that you can’t be friends. Variety and different perspectives are always good!

Don’t feel guilty about things you can’t control or influence. Spend your energy doing what you can, but remember that everyone has their own free will.

Nothing is original, but no one can do what you do like you can. And never second-guess people’s reactions to what you do. Telling people about my alter ego coaching and course has been eye-opening – the reactions have been amazing from even the most unlikely people.

If you make a daft statement like “I love this house so much, I can’t ever imagine crying while I live here” when you move into a new house, you are highly likely to be proved wrong within the week.

Having good friends within walking distance is unbelievably sweet – especially after close to ten years of trekking up and down the M25 on a regular basis. (I’m still working on getting certain people to move up here….!)

It’s ok to stop doing things you don’t want to do – whether that’s a business, a job, a relationship, a house… it’s good to have a plan first, but you don’t have to do anything forever unless you want to.

Life is too short to worry about your weight or what other people think of you. Wear, and do, what makes you the happiest.

Oh – and if you want to dye your hair, go ahead and do it. I waited 9 years to dye mine blue/turquoise – and while I love that it represents me so perfectly right now, I do wish I hadn’t waited so long.

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Here’s to the very last year of my twenties!

With love and unicorns,

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52 Project, week 5: Pomophily

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Bit fuzzy from my much-abused camera phone, but this is the moment we handed in our entry to work’s art competition. Based on one of our academic’s TEDx talks, about homophily – which is “the tendency of individuals to associate and bond with similar others”.

This was a group effort from Crafty Coffee, our Friday lunchtime craft group – and we thought it illustrated us perfectly.

Don’t miss Campus Cat in the middle! Maria’s original talk is here, with the images we were inspired by at 15:19.

 

 

Why being interested in ALL THE THINGS is actually a good thing

Discovering, a couple of years ago, that I was a Scanner, was a turning point in my life.

If you’ve never come across the word in this context before, alternative names include Renaissance woman/man/soul, polymath, da Vinci personality, multipassionate, multipotentialite, and some that are less complimentary – dilettante, flake, Jack-of-all-trades, fantasist.

Barbara Sher, who coined the term Scanner, goes into it in much more depth in her books, but the gist is that it’s someone who has many interests, usually moves jobs often, can’t seem to settle on one thing to do and who has ideas all the time, and frequently leaves projects seemingly unfinished.

I’m not normally one for labels, but I’d struggled for years with my many, many interests, and my attention span waxing and waning depending on what I was doing, but also on when I was doing it and what other things were currently on my radar. I had more hobbies than the rest of my group of friends put together, and found it utterly impossible to stay in a job for more than 18 months or so without being bored to tears. By the time I was 24 I had a CV which spanned as many pages as my Dad’s did – he was 66 at the time.

Even the line dancing I adored, I stopped once I’d reached a certain level. I qualified for, competed in and placed in the World Championships in Nashville in 2000, and it has taken me fifteen years to rekindle my love affair with line dancing. I got what I wanted out of it, and then I quit. (Though I’ve worn cowboy (girl?) boots ever since I was nine.)

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Modern Western society expects us all to be specialists, and to choose one thing to do for the rest of our lives. Even at 16 I raised eyebrows by choosing English, French, German and Physics for my A levels. So many people told me that I should have taken another Humanities subject. I’d have taken something arty (photography or textiles or something like that), but I was told at school, repeatedly from childhood, that I was academic and not creative. So I did what I could at the time, while dreading the thought of refining my choices even further.

My tendency to stop completely and move on, once whatever I was doing ceased to be interesting or fun, has been frowned upon over the years too – because in our society, whether at work or at play, quitting is seen as giving up, as being unreliable and therefore as a bad thing. I couldn’t understand why people would continue with all sorts of things, most of which were either supposed to be fun or which took up a considerable chunk of precious life –  work, relationships, hobbies, projects – long after they stopped enjoying them.

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Discovering blogs (or weblogs, as they were known in the misty recesses of 2005) was a revelation – here at last was somewhere where I could write about and share the day to day stories of being me, of everything I did – and instead of simply recording it in a diary, I found likeminded people! Other people’s writing, blog comments, forums for incredibly niche hobbies like collecting model horses – for the first time, no one judged me for having a series of bursts of enthusiasm for something, then taking a break and returning to it later.

(A vaguely relevant side note – I found it hilarious when people started extolling the virtues and wonder of internet dating, and meeting people online, a few years ago – because these were the same people that gave me repeated lectures on how stupid I was to go to London to meet new friends I’d met online through my hobbies… whether Wheel of Time fans, model horse collectors or photographers. My first internet meetup was with Chloe in London when I was 19, back in 2006 – and it was apparently far from normal to do that then. She’s now one of my dearest friends. Who knew something held in such suspicion would become so mainstream so fast?!)

Regardless of the type of project, idea or pastime, I followed (follow!) a pattern of sorts – I’d have an idea or something would pique my interest, I’d research it a bit and decide I wanted to learn about it or learn to do it. I’d do some more research, meet some people who already did it, buy some things related to it (craft materials, jewellery tools, small collectable resin horses, typewriters…) and then throw myself into it with an all-consuming passion. Until the next thing caught my attention.

An example – at the time I write, I have just found the new My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic series. I ADORED MLP when I was younger, and had avoided the new style ones in case I hated them. Then I saw an episode on YouTube and am now devouring the first and second series on DVD, while scouring shops and the internet for MLP memorabilia to keep on my desk, pin up in my studio, and hang from my handbag.

I’ve driven both my (now ex) partners and my parents, and probably my friends too, up the wall for decades with my wild enthusiasm for a new project which dwindles into inertia just as they’re starting to come round to the idea of me having chosen My Thing, at last.

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So after the best part of a decade of doing this and blogging, and trying to justify my inability to choose or find that One Thing to do with my career and free time that was supposed to keep me interested for the rest of my life, I found one of Barbara Sher’s books in the library.

And I read it, and I cried… because there at last was proof that I wasn’t alone, that I wasn’t a flake and that I wasn’t broken. I just had a different kind of brain – and there were other people out there like me.

Fast forward a couple of years, and I’ve actively sought out other people who get it, though the majority of people I know still don’t. Which is ok – we’re just wired differently! Lots of the solopreneurs I now count among my dearest friends (the internet is a properly magical thing!) are also scanners, and we’re learning how to make our personalities work with our businesses rather than forcing ourselves into a box.

When I find a new thing, the time I spend engaged with it varies – from a few days to a few years, and I am never without several things on the go. (if I’d had a £1 for every time someone asked me how I fit so much in and follow so many hobbies, I could probably retire tomorrow). And I have a noticeable cycle, though the timing isn’t consistent – generally, if it’s something I discover and like enough to chuck myself into it, I make friends within it and then continue to return to it after intervals, throughout my life.

Examples of these include collecting, painting and showing model horses; my car Poppy and the club I belong to through her; roller skating (started at age 6 and I go through phases of being addicted to it every few years); horse riding; jewellery making; papercraft and scrapbooking; customising shoes and clothes; reworking the interior of my home; sewing; camper vans; cross stitching, baking, wanting to write a book… the list is endless (almost literally).

The only things which are consistent are writing and photography. Which brings me to the heart of this post.

When it became apparent at an absurdly early age that I was going to write, and read, far more than I was going to do anything else consistently (the photography came later), it’s been suggested repeatedly that I should be an author and write books, or a journalist and write articles, or a travel writer, or [insert traditional writing-related-job here].

And they’re all good ideas on the surface. But the trouble is, I don’t want to write whole books (well, I do, but I know myself well enough now to know that completing more than one is highly unlikely – the kick I’ll get when I finish Unfurling is highly likely to be enough for me to move onto something else instead of writing a second book).

I don’t want to dive so deeply into one subject that I don’t have time or energy left over to explore all the other amazing things out there – which, if I pursued a traditional writing career, I would have to do. Even journalists, who write short to medium articles instead of whole books, usually specialise in a broad topic – business, or travel, or cookery, or lifestyle.

And while thinking about my blog, and where it’s headed over the next few years, and how I got into blogging in the first place, it occurred to me that it really is the perfect place for my scanner personality to develop, grow and flourish.

It takes the two things I do naturally and consistently, and applies them to the ever-changing series of things that I do equally naturally, but much less consistently. I can write one-sentence posts, or 2,000 word epics like this one – and I get to choose, rather than an editor.

Since I very first started blogging back in 2006, and in a more structured way since the inception of Ducking Fabulous in 2010, I have used my very own space on the internet to record, write, think out loud and muse about life, learning and all the things that catch my fancy.

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To explore and investigate my passing enthusiasms, catch ideas I’d like to follow up in the future, and record my journey through learning and practising and discovering. It gives me a self-made library to refer to when I come back to something I’ve done before, and means I have tangible evidence of how I’ve improved, changed, or grown in a particular area.

Through my writing I’ve learned to give myself permission not to finish things, and to hop, if I want to, between interests. I allow myself to stop doing things if they’re not working – a complete antithesis to the previous generation’s work ethic, which tends to be along the power-through-and-keep-going-even-if-it’s-hard-and-it-should-be-worth-it-in-the-end lines.

Credit is also due to the rise of blogging in popularity and as a career choice – I no longer have to explain what a blog is, and it’s the best excuse I’ve ever had for trying out new things – all in the name of fresh content for my lovely readers. Yet this blog, seemingly uniquely for a blog that supports a business, is still very much my little space on the internet. I’m forever reading articles which tell you what you must and mustn’t do in order for your blog to be businesslike, or relevant, or grow your readership… and I stand by my belief that a blog is the equivalent of your home online.

I want people to see me for who I am, and if they resonate with me and like my writing, then some part of my business will probably be a good fit for them. Whether it’s jewellery, tarot decks or courses depends very much on them and what they’re looking for.

I’m trying this year for the first time to schedule my posts and write them in advance, and while it works for some types of post, it’s failing miserably for others. Like these. I need to write them when the inspiration strikes, and then I want them out there so I can have the conversations they spark while the subject is still fresh in my mind.

So what about you? Are you also a scanner, or beginning to realise you could be one? Let me know in the comments (or email me if you’d prefer it not to be public) – I’d love to know.

With love and unicorns,

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52 Project | Week 2: Unicorn-Appropriate Headwear

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Some of you will have seen this already. I love my unicorn hat, and saw no reason why I shouldn’t wear it to the day job on the day of my appraisal. I didn’t wear it *in* the appraisal. But I make several people smile, do double takes or laugh out loud every time I do wear it, and for that reason it deserves a place in my 52 photos that represent 2015.

That hat is extremely Lotta.

The contenders are, as always, in my Flickr stream in chronological order.

Wordsmith or witch?

charm-necklace

My jewellery has always symbolised what’s important to me – a birthstone, my Aes Sedai ring (the books the ring is inspired by changed my life), friendship rings, and most recently one reminding me of my intentions to photograph more of life. I create my talisman jewellery so that other people can do the same – keep their beliefs or dreams or hopes close by, always.

For day to day wear, I have various charms representing parts of my life or intentions which I wear separately or together on a silver chain – inspired by my Mum, who wears her cross, her evil eye protection, a camel and some other significant charms all together on a gold chain. I love that her beliefs and superstitions sit so easily next to each other like that.

As 2014 draws to a close, I’d like to add to my charms. A pentacle, for my spiritual side and for the witches in Discworld; a hare, for my connection with nature and also for Tiffany Aching (another Discworld reference) and the courage I hope I too have; and cats, to symbolise my two fluffy con artists who have so quickly become so central to my world.

talisman jewellery by Carla | carlalouise.com

But almost every online shop which sells charms goes on at length about pentacles being a Wiccan symbol, and the Wiccan rede or tradition. Which is fine, but also quite annoying, as I’m not Wiccan. I don’t particularly identify as a witch in the traditional sense, either – only that an amalgam of the pagan/hedge witch/nature/druid traditions is what most calls to me from all the religious and spiritual paths out there.

And then that got me thinking – I have always, always been fascinated with magic, witchcraft, spells, the fae, the Other. I am unusually intuitive and more than usually aware of how others are feeling and the potential or actual impact of words and actions – mine and those of others. I feel other people’s pain in a way that is draining – my heart quite literally hurts for a friend who’s suffering emotionally or physically. I’m instinctively aware of the moon’s phases and their effects on me (if not perfectly versed in all their names), and I have a collection of crystals and tarot cards which I use fairly regularly. (I sell them, too – I wouldn’t do that unless I believed in them.) All of that makes me Carla, not Wiccan, or any other particular religion.

But words – now words have incredible power. I love, and I firmly believe, in words working magic. As spells, manifesting, crystallising intention or just putting yourself out there – whatever you call it, you will have noticed at some point in your life the power of declaring what you truly believe, voicing your dreams, giving life to that which you most crave through words, whether spoken or written. (It’s said that millionaires write their goals down every day, and billionaires twice a day.) And symbols like the pentacle or the hare (or a typewriter, a flower, whatever works for you) are just as powerful – they create words and associations in your mind. Which is the first step to making your dreams real.

And though I’ve never particularly thought of myself as a witch, I do use words and symbols and rituals, every day, to create my magical life. A life which I’m told inspires others (a concept I find humbling and exhilarating in equal measure). A life which is an evolving creation in itself – a journey, not a destination. A life made out of words.

So am I a wordsmith, or a witch? Or a little bit of both?

Traditionally, witches have a terrible reputation. The definition usually involves evil spells and an ugly old crone. In my life, as with all women, I’ll be maiden, mother and crone – in age if not in actuality. Beauty is subjective – but while I don’t for a moment believe I’m ugly, neither am I about to claim the alternative title of enchantress – the dictionary definition of “captivatingly attractive” is not something that could be consistently said about any human being I’ve ever met, and especially not me first thing in the morning. Plus I don’t put spells on people.

Instead, I believe in magic like most people believe in the sun rising each day. I refuse to let being an adult dull my imagination and sense of wonder. I listen to people and I share stories and I create words and symbols and images – in the hope that these things will encourage other people to live out their own dreams.

I am not a Wiccan. I am not an enchantress.

But I am magic, I am creative and I love words. And so I suppose I might just be a witch… by my own definition.

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With love and unicorns,

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P.S. Want to find your own alter ego, witchy or otherwise? Hop over to Unfurling Your Wings and get your name on the list – the list for early access closes soon!

 

Clear as mud – HMRC’s new VATMOSS guidance

I am beginning to think that HMRC couldn’t actually spell “clear” or “helpful”.

This afternoon, after much waiting, anxiety and in some cases actual tears, HMRC released their much-vaunted “new guidance” for micro businesses affected by the VAT MOSS rules.

This post from Enterprise Nation explains it. And makes it sound like they have fixed all our woes.

They haven’t.

These ‘fixes’ are simply bad rewrites of what we already knew, what had already filtered through.

But this is not good enough.

The jaded cynic in me believes, now, against my unicorns-and-daydreams hopeful and sunny side, that they have spotted people opting out of the traditional 9-5 drudgery in droves, and this is their way of stopping it.

The rational and sensible human in me can simply see that they just DON’T HAVE A CLUE. (a dear friend suggested to me some time ago that what I was in need of is a cluebat. To hit people with when they don’t have a clue. Oh, what I’d give for one now).

HMRC, may I present A Brief Guide To The Internet in 2014 (and no, it’s not liable for VAT because you’re in the UK and so am I. Plus I’m a generous soul and I’m giving you this lesson for free. I won’t even add a sales pitch at the end):

You may not have come across it before, in the cushy caves in which you appear to reside and work from, however “the internet” is this magical thing, commonplace in the modern world, which enables people to communicate digitally. No telephones, no mail, no pigeon. It’s almost instant, and it is universal. Worldwide. No barriers.

Via the wonder of “the internet”, we can do such things as contact each other by email, read other people’s writings and watch videos of cats. However, crucially, it also enables business to take place at previously impossible scales (both ends of the scales).

What makes this possible, in the UK at least, are two things: automation and the UK VAT threshold. 

Automation means that once created, a product can be sold over and over again, without any intervention from the business owner (except for updates). As I have stated before in my letter to Vince Cable, the vast majority of what is sold is either too low priced, or too labour-intensive to create, to be worthwhile if we also have to be personally involved in every single purchase.

Instant payment + instant download = happy customer = business growth = shoring up the economy. Win win all round.

So a mum of 3 can write, scan and sell knitting patterns, enabling her to spend time with her children and save money on childcare while providing a small income for luxuries. She can use the rare time when her children are asleep to work on new patterns rather than the tedious and old fashioned admin of sending out purchases by hand.

A young single woman can supplement her day job without having to work in a pub or restaurant after a 9 hour day. This means she can put a little by for her house deposit and emergencies. She also has caring responsibilities, and automation and “the internet” mean she can fulfil those without having to take a pay cut from her day job, or spend her precious and limited free time sending out USB sticks containing training videos videos she is unable to deliver online without being liable for VAT and the data collection that goes with it. (are you beginning to see how ridiculous this is yet?).

A man who can’t get a normal job due to chronic health issues is able to stay off benefits, because he can create pre-made logos for small businesses which they can buy and implement without any input from him. This means that when he is in hospital for regular appointments, his tiny business doesn’t suffer from customers being unable to receive their purchases until he is home again. Like the other two examples, he cannot spend his limited time on admin, he needs to spend the time he is well enough to work on generating income, not on extensive admin.

All three of these businesses turn over less than £5,000 a year, and have registered with HMRC despite thr government’s apparent lack of understanding of what they do, because they WANT to do things right and trade within the law.

The VAT threshold is in place to ensure that businesses can start, innovate and grow, without drowning in admin and rules and red tape and bureaucracy before they even get off the ground. That we can keep our UK threshold is great – but that we have to submit a nil return and MOSS returns even if we only sell one thing to the EU is utterly, utterly senseless – and we cannot physically collect the data that you require from us.

One of my own businesses is a physical stationery subscription box company (i.e. actual parcels in the actual post) and we have had several customers whose addresses are not attached to their PayPal account. Let me remind you that this is for something which is PHYSICALLY SHIPPED to them. One or two of them were extremely hard to contact to get the address for a product they had already paid for, because their PayPal-registered email addresses were also void.

We cannot comply with your demands – and anyone with a modicum of understanding of what we do should grasp that. If you didn’t know before, you certainly should now, after the excellent posts, campaigners and meetings you have had.

That magical thing we call “the internet” has facilitated income and a sense of purpose for hundreds of thousands of people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to earn their living. They don’t want to be on benefits, they don’t want to be just another statistic.

The VAT place of supply rules have given me no choice but to pull the web design course I have spent months creating – I don’t dare accidentally sell to the EU and I can’t guarantee I would have the correct information, stored on an EU server, in any case.

The “clarification” you issued today clarifies only two things – that you don’t care about tiny businesses, and that despite being responsible for taxing us, you have absolutely no concept of the true state of online enterprise in the UK – at the smallest scale.

Our representatives and yours have been at the same meetings – and it is overwhelmingly evident that you haven’t listened to anything they’ve said.

I wait in hope for the exemption and threshold we have asked for and a further and better response from Vince Cable.

photo credit: GrungeTextures via photopin cc

(Disclaimer: this post is my opinion, borne of frustration and disappointment in the powers that be to protect something I’ve worked so hard for. The scenarios are an amalgamation of scenarios of real life businesses I have seen unfolding in past weeks, details changed to protect their identities.)

The #VATMOSS mess: my response to Vince Cable

The VAT MOSS petition started by Issy Zinaburg has gathered force. In the last few weeks, hundreds of small business owners have come together and thanks to the efforts of a group of those people, we have had meetings at the highest level and our voices have started to be heard.

There is still a way to go, but we were feeling positive.

Then yesterday Vince Cable (Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills) to whom the petition was addressed, and whose representatives had been at these meetings, had heard and understood our position, responded publicly to the petition.

You can read that response here.

Here is the email I sent yesterday – I am making it public because I am seethingly furious that with 10 working days left before Christmas, we still have no clear guidance from HMRC. Those of us that do know about it are floundering, wondering what the hell we should do – do we close? Do we risk contravening the law by refusing to sell to the EU? Do we take a step back in time, progress and technology and revert to selling only physical products, putting our ebooks on CDs and our courses on USB sticks? (Even this last won’t be safe, as they want to roll out the changes to all products and services “soon” – potentially by 2016).

The email is long, but I believe entirely necessary. Before we started to speak up, they didn’t know we existed. So we must continue to let them know they are suffocating us – and suffocating enterprise and innovation in this country. Many of my less stubborn friends won’t bother to start a business with all this red tape in place – one of the beautiful things about the internet and automated technology was the way it enabled people to try things out.

I am very much hoping that we see a more sympathetic and better researched response from Vince and his team before the week is out.

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How the EU ruined my November – and is killing microbusiness

What a month November has been.

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Supermodel cat is obliging, yet frowny. #sillykittens

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Starting off with an attempt at National Novel Writing Month, I had a wonderful time rediscovering my love for writing fiction (and Luna and Clover got starring roles in a story about how they became witch’s cats). Alongside that I spent some time working on Unfurling, which is beginning to take real shape, and is making me very happy.

I got a Ralph unexpectedly at the end of October…

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Ralph's first crochet lesson #essexralph

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… and spent a weekend wedding dress shopping with my best friend (for her, not me!). Which was glorious though I’m not allowed to share photos yet!

Completely differently but equally excitingly, on Sunday I appeared on my first live call, an interview by Vaska the Curious Cat, for Free Range Humans‘ storytelling tent. I am told I inspired people… and this is massive, as that’s all I ever really wanted to do. Show people that they too can live life their way, whatever that means to them.

There was a housewarming with wonderful friends from uni, and a christening with my closest friends at home in Essex – and the newest member of our group, baby Jessica (whose special day it was).

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