Freedom, Vanilla, Customers and Story: 4 things that changed my perspective on branding

Lidia D at her workshopOver the last few years, whilst being self-employed, I have struggled with building a client profile and in the process, I’ve become allergic to the word “niche”. I don’t know how many times I’ve wished it would go out of fashion. It’s not that I don’t understand the concepts. I totally get it. As a teacher, I specialised in my subjects with learners coming to me to gain the skills required to pass specific examinations. I just couldn’t apply this to what I wanted to do when thinking about it from a business perspective.

Since changing from a monthly salary as a teacher to the ups and downs of the freelance world, I’ve had a lot to learn. There’s been plenty of advice about choosing the ideal client and giving out a clear message.

While I’ve always understood on the surface what to do, it never really fell into place until the day I was sitting in Lidia’s Drzewiecka’s workshop listening to Lidia talk about branding. In one of those moments of inspiration, fuelled by Lidia’s knowledge and perspective, it all became clear.

Not only have I gained more clarity around what I want to do, but I also feel that I could set up another business, describe an ideal client and create a message, colour scheme and brand essence for that company.

Have I suddenly turned into a female entrepreneur overnight? I think not.

Here are the four of the things that helped me gain that clarity:

1. The freedom to see things differently

I realised that Lidia’s skill has freed me up to see things differently. I’ve become detached. My focus has shifted from internal to external.

One of the first things Lidia said in her workshop was

“Branding is not about you, it’s about your customer”

I can relate this to teaching and learning – it’s the same. Teaching and training is not about the teacher, it’s about the learners. I have applied this philosophy thousands of times to workshops and the classroom, but it had never occurred to me to apply it to my freelance career. I was too busy focusing on my own doubts and worries.

2. Your branding should never be ‘vanilla’

Lidia explained that branding should either attract or repel people. In other words, if people think your website is ‘okay’, you’ve got work to do! Your branding is the way you show up – the visual connection you make with your clients.  People buy the experience they get and branding helps you influence that experience. If your brand isn’t clearly defined, there’s nothing for people to connect with and therefore they are less likely to buy.

3. Turn your story into your brand

Lidia started off the day by telling us her story and journey and the mistakes she has made on the way. She cleverly combined her story into the rest of the day’s learning. When she wanted to highlight certain things she referred back to her ‘mistakes’ demonstrating how to improve.

Branding with Lidia at Visuals
Branding workbooks

It’s this honesty that warms you to Lidia and defines her own brand. She’s authentic and genuine. She’s made mistakes and is not afraid to share that. She was that ‘quirky’ photographer in the luxury wedding market, wondering why couples weren’t buying her services when her photos were fantastic quality. She admitted that she was looking for customers in the wrong place. At the time, she didn’t match what the luxury market client was looking for. She was fun and quirky, not luxury. This openness on Lidia’s part made me feel okay about my lack of branding. I relaxed and opened up to learning.

4. Your branding belongs to your customers

Until I started to write this article, I hadn’t realised what an enormous effect Lidia’s way of looking at branding has had on me. Take this, for example: I recently posted a photo on Instagram. A friend rightly pointed out that it looked like a holiday snap and gave me some tips on using filters, reminding me in the process that what I publish online represents my business. I was grateful for the advice. However, after reflecting on it, I began to think it’s actually the other way round. In other words, what we post online, needs to represent our customers, not ourselves. I now need to take a look at the message potential customers are picking up when I post. What do they want to see and hear? This will take some time, but I know it will be worth it long-term. Forgive me, if for some of you that’s old news, but without Lidia’s input, it may have taken me a while to work that out.

Lidia’s passion for helping people to get this right is clear. She’s professional, fun and brimming over with insights, knowledge and experience that make working with her a relaxed but productive experience

How I ended up on this workshop

For a while, I’ve known that my online presence needs a turn around and have approached a few website designers for advice.  Recently, I came across an advert for a workshop called ‘Defining your Brand’. Lidia Drzewiecka was looking for a blogger to participate in her workshop in exchange for a review. I contacted her and before I knew it, I was signed up for the workshop.

What we did on the workshop

Exploring brand identity
Exploring brand identity

The workshop was divided into three sessions of 90 minutes with a break for refreshments and another for lunch. Lidia worked us through our brand value, identity and positioning giving us examples and showing us  how to stand out.

Two things that stood out for me

Apart from Lidia’s knowledge in her subject area, there were two other things that clearly stood out for me.

1. Lidia’s research on her clients

Before attending the workshop, we had exchanged emails and had a chat on the phone. Lidia had already checked out my websites and I was impressed by this.

At the workshop it became clear that Lidia had researched all the attendees and knew something about everyone’s products and services. I loved this personal touch and know that it’s not common. It meant that Lidia not only had dedicated time prior to the workshop to us all, but was also able to make references to our businesses and provide specific insights to all of us throughout the day.

Lidia had researched all the attendees and knew something about everyone’s products and services.

#2. Lidia’s ability to visualise a brand

Lidia has an amazing capacity to visualise a brand. I felt that she was taking our websites off the page and helping us to see our brand identity as if it were 3D. The effect this has had on how I now see my business has been amazing.

 So, what has changed? notebook Lidia D

I’ve realised that while I haven’t yet consciously set out to apply my learning, my subconscious has been working on it ever since I attended the workshop. I’ve started to become more aware of how businesses are sending messages out to their clients, rather than just focusing on what they are sending. I’ve been more conscious about my audience when I write, who I want to work with and what I can help with.  (Oh! Is that my niche?  🙂 )

In short, Lidia’s workshop has changed the way I think about my work, my clients and what, as well as how, to share with them. I have the freedom to look at it from a different perspective and can clearly see where my online presence needs improving.

I’m still reeling from the effect this workshop has had on me and I now realise that it’s part of Lidia’s skill. Somehow I feel like I have gained far more than the exchange rate.

I gained clarity, a sense of freedom with regards to perspective and the ability to clearly define an ideal client.

Find out more

If you are looking for help defining your brand identity in order to attract more clients, Lidia’s workshop might be a great starting point for you.

You can find out more about Lidia’s workshops and how to work with her and her amazing team here: Visuable

Disclaimer: I was invited to Lidia’s workshop in exchange for a review. All opinions are my own.

Three key ingredients for a feel-good breakfast at Beets n Roots, Bristol

What is a Beets n Roots breakfast?

I was really excited to be invited for breakfast at Beets n Roots with the Bristol Bloggers and Influencers group. I’m a great fan of eating chemical-free food, so a visit to a café that’s organic for one of my favourite meals of the day promised to be a real treat.

All Mighty breakfast
All Mighty Breakfast

After a bit of research I discovered that Beets n Roots is a vegetarian and vegan café. I wasn’t really sure what to expect for breakfast as my experience, up until now, of vegetarian breakfast is a pale-looking frozen veggie sausage. Fortunately, this image was about to change.

 3 key ingredients for me

  1. Beetroot

    I suppose I should have guessed from the name of the café that beetroot would be on the menu. And, lo and behold, waiting for us on a tray was a selection of freshly made juices, including a bright red beetroot juice.

    Fruit jucies
    Red, Green and Orange fruit juices

    While I love homemade beetroot, I was a little wary about drinking a glass full of it. However, the colour certainly attracted me and I was impressed at the balance of flavour of beetroot, apples and lemon. Beets are good for us for a whole load of nutritional reasons, including vitamins A, B, C and minerals such as iron, magnesium and copper, all of which we need to function well and give us energy. So, as you can imagine, this is a great start to the day. Once I’d started with a red juice, I felt it was only fair to try the orange and the green one too. Being used to freshly squeezed juice in Spain, which only contains oranges, I have to admit that I really took to the perfectly balanced combination of orange, carrot, turmeric and ginger in the orange juice. The green one was yummy too and a great way to eat your greens in disguise.

  2. Kale

    Ever since I discovered a recipe for kale crisps (kale baked in the oven with olive oil and paprika), I’ve been a fan of this ‘superpower’ veg, getting my organic supply from Ros at the Tetbury Goods Shed or the Fishponds Food Assembly. However, I had never had it for breakfast until my experience at Beets n Roots. While kale on your breakfast plate may seem a bit strange, it was my favourite bit of the All Mighty Breakfast; ginger and garlic sautéed kale. Just thinking about it makes my mouth water.  The All Mighty as you may guess from the name, is a powerful combination of feel-good foods. A baked mushroom on sourdough toast sprinkled with china rose sprouts, avocado, scrambled eggs (tofu is also available), organic baked beans, kale, garlic roasted tomatoes and fresh leaves.

    Feel-good breakfast
    Feel-good breakfast

    Breakfast has never felt so good. While a traditional English breakfast can sometimes leave me feeling tired and sluggish, what I hadn’t anticipated was how much energy I was going to have after a breakfast full of fresh, organic vegetable and fruit based ingredients.

  3. Sunshine

    I love to eat outdoors. One of my fondest memories of travelling in Norway is of buying a freshly cooked hot omelette at 6.30am on a sunny morning and then popping off down the road to eat it next to a waterfall. These days that might be referred to as a Mindfulness breakfast.

    Comfy and cosy
    Comfy and cosy

    While the waterfall element may not be possible in Bristol, Beets n Roots have a lovely terrace that captures the morning sun. If it’s a little chilly, there are blankets available to cover yourself over. The terrace is set back from the road and the wooden tables with potted herbs and cushions give a  ‘chill-out’ feel. It’s divided into different levels creating a comfortable space.  But don’t worry, there’s also a cosy indoor seating area for when it’s raining.

What else is there?

Beets n Roots also prepare brunch and lunch. There’s an organic salad bar, food is cooked on the premises and local ingredients are sourced where possible.

Organic salad bar
Organic salad bar

During my second visit here for brunch, I was going to try something different, but the All Mighty Breakfast won me over again. However, the bean chilli that was simmering away ready for lunch smelt so wonderful, that my next visit may well be a lunch time one. There are also plenty of take away choices, making this a perfect work-time lunch spot.

Tapas for breakfast or brunch

I love the idea of sharing breakfast tapas-style. It is a novel and attractive way to try more than one thing on the menu. And perfect when you can’t decide what to choose. This brilliant idea means you get three different flavours, textures and sensations. So, if you fancy both sweet and savoury for brunch, you can order buckwheat pancakes served with chocolate and maple syrup as well as scrambled egg with spinach, basil and garlic roasted tomatoes and you still have a third choice.

Scrambled egg tapa
Scrambled egg tapa

What a great way to share breakfast with a friend or loved one. Or if you don’t want to share, you can eat a delicious combination all by yourself.

Apart from the juices and smoothies, a range of teas and coffees are available along with bliss balls (energy balls made of cacao) that have a delicious orange twist and other tempting cakes with gluten free options. And, I am pleased to say, that my herbal tea was served in a pot. Those little touches are so important.

Overall opinion

I’d a like to say a massive thank you to all the staff at Beets n Roots who were friendly and helpful. I really enjoyed my experience here and especially, the feeling of energy that I was left with afterwards. The food I chose was light but filling and very tasty. A great choice for vegans and those of us on the lookout for healthy options.

Where to find Beets n Roots

You can find Beets n Roots in the vibrant Clifton area of Bristol at 39 Cotham Hill, BS6 6JY Bristol, United Kingdom.  Or follow them on Facebook.

Prices start from around £4.95 for a tapa size breakfast and at the time of writing this, the All Mighty Breakfast was £9.95. Bearing in mind that after brunch I didn’t need to eat again until early evening, I thought this was great value.

Herbal tea
Herbal tea

 

 

 

Fresh veggies
Fresh veggies

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Disclaimer: While I was generously invited to brunch at Beets n Roots, all opinions are my own.

A Taste of Spain at the South Glos Food and Drink Festival

Elena’s Paella 

Having not eaten paella for a while, I was really pleased to discover Ele’s Little Kitchen at the first ever South Glos Food and Drink Festival this weekend.

Spanish paella and tapas
Spanish paella and tapas

Ele – short for Elena- is from Murcia in Spain and uses authentic Spanish ingredients such as pimentón (paprika)in her paella. I was hoping to try the seafood version, but unfortunately, it had all sold out. So, I ordered the chicken one and watched Elena cooking it in the sunshine.

Elena started with the vegetables, followed by the chicken, paprika, salt and water. When the water was boiling, she added the rice, spreading it evenly in a cross shape over the paella pan.

Paella ingredients
Paella ingredients
Paella cooking at the South Glos Food and Drink Festival
Paella cooking at the South Glos Food and Drink Festival

Somerset Charcuterie

While the rice was cooking, I wandered off to have a look around and discovered another Spanish-influenced product made in Somerset. Tastings were going on for the  Somerset Charcuterie range of chorizo and salchichon.

Somerset Charcuterie chorizo and salami
Somerset Charcuterie chorizo and salami

Chorizo has a become a popular ingredient in Britain. However, salchichon  – a cured Spanish sausage similar to salami – is not so well known.

I love salchichon (pronounced sal- chee – chon – the ‘ch’ is like the ‘ch’ in church) and have to say that I have a weakness  for the small business, homemade, locally produced versions.

Black pepper and garlic salami
Black pepper and garlic salami

Our neighbour, Isabel, in Spain makes a fabulous salchichon and it’s hard to beat that wonderful taste of fresh black pepper. However, I have to admit, I was massively impressed with Somerset Charcuterie’s homemade product. I tried the black pepper and garlic salami and discovered that it was a really tasty authentic version and is definitely comparable to Isabel’s (sorry Isabel, but it was really good!).

If you’re looking for a locally produced Spanish-style, cured meat, I would highly recommend this salchichon – black pepper and garlic salami.

The rice is ready

I headed back to Elena’s stand to collect my paella, to find that I was just in time as she had sold half of it and was starting to make a fresh one. She served up my portion complete with two chunks of bread – the Spanish rarely eat without bread – and I was ready to go.

Elena's paella
Elena’s paella

Cooking paella is a skill (one that I have yet to achieve… ) and so I admire anyone who can cook large portions of this dish and get the rice just right. The texture and taste of this paella were perfect and sitting in the heat of a glorious May weekend, my taste buds and I were whisked off to Spain  in an instant. Well worth the 40-minute wait while it cooked.

Shopping for paella ingredients in Bristol

If you’re looking to buy the seasoning to make your own paella, you can find them at the Spanish deli El Colmado on Gloucester Road, Bristol.

The South Glos Food and Drink Festival

I really enjoyed this event and felt that there was a great balance of food,  drinks, crafts and entertainment. I was pleased that this was a free event as people seem to be more willing to spend on the local businesses that have worked hard to get there and, I feel, deserve the custom.

 

Five reasons to choose Backwell House as a venue for your retreat

This summer I was invited to spend an evening at Backwell House boutique hotel near Bristol with the Bristol Bloggers group.  I was keen to visit this nine-bedroom country house hotel, featured in the magazine Great British and Irish hotels 2017-18, as clients ask me to recommend retreat venues. My first impression, after spotting Backwell House from the woodland driveway, was that I was in for a treat. We had an amazing evening at the event and here are five reasons why I liked it.

  1. Attention to detail

When looking for a retreat venue, for me there must be a wow factor, something that your guests may not have expected, or even if they were expecting it, it still makes them say wow”.  While Backwell House has all the style of a Georgian house set in beautiful countryside, what really makes it special as a venue are the important little touches that give added value and comfort to your guests. It’s about making the experience special and the team at Backwell House know just how to do this.  For me, Backwell House is a lifestyle choice in a venue setting.

Hospitality tray with Fairtrade tea and ground coffee
Hospitality tray with Fairtrade tea and ground coffee

From the coffee pot and Fairtrade sustainable ground coffee in the bedroom, the fresh wild flowers on the dining table, the organic kitchen garden, local products and free-range eggs from their own chickens, it’s all about giving you the quality treatment that you and your retreat guests deserve.

2. Fine dining experience

As far as possible the food is raised or grown on the land surrounding the hotel. While this adds to the postcard image, you can also be assured that if you choose a meat dish, the herds had once been happily grazing freely in the surrounding woodlands and hills. Seafood is sourced from Devon and any other food supplies are obtained locally from farmers in North Somerset. The delicious bread that was served with our meal comes from a local baker and the butter is homemade.

Brixham crab bisque with beetroot, apple and nori seaweed.
Brixham crab bisque with beetroot, apple and nori seaweed.

The stunning Victorian kitchen garden provides chef, Ross Hunter, with the organic herbs, and vegetables he needs for his dishes. Ross is an experienced chef and brings a unique combination of fresh local ingredients, flavours and style to the table.

My three -course dinner started with Brixham Crab with beetroot, apple and nori seaweed. The combination of colour and texture were amazing.

60 day Hereford Sirloin
60 day Hereford Sirloin

This was followed by a tasty 60-day Hereford Sirloin, Alliums, King Oyster Mushroom, Beef Jus with ox cheek which was cooked to perfection. Ross had obviously taken his time preparing this dish. While the ox cheek, a difficult dish to cook, was a perfect melt-in-your-mouth texture, I felt that it would have benefitted from more sauce. However, that maybe due to the fact that my experience of ox cheek is in rich Spanish sauces.

choc & raspberry
Raspberry and chocolate parfait

The meal ended with some delicious freshly made desserts, which were much appreciated by the group, and the cheeseboard with local cheese, which was a perfect choice to finish off the meal with a glass of red wine.

3. Space

Rooms

Each room is unique and decorated differently, adding charm to the visit and making guests feel special.  The rooms are named after someone who had either lived at the Georgian House or was in some way related to it.  An extra touch of charm and luxury can be found in some of the rooms as a free-standing bath allows you to take a dip while admiring the view through the French windows. The rooms are imaginative; the headboards are upcycled from the wooden floorboards, and luxurious at the same time.

Imaginative headboards from reclaimed wood
Imaginative headboards from reclaimed wood

Rooms are clean, comfortable and well provided with tea and coffee making facilities and have an impressive view of the surrounding area. Natural toiletries are provided by local ethical company Bramley.

Outdoor space

The woodland area is ideal for walking while the back of the house leads you out to the flower and organic kitchen garden. There’s plenty of space for outdoor activities, a marquee or tepees.

Indoor space

If space is needed for workshops, activities or therapies, the dining room is available as well as a small cinema room in the old cellar. The breakfast room is a bright, airy and spacious room that could easily be converted into a space for workshops. There are plenty of tables, comfy chairs and seating areas making it ideal for a writing retreat where participants might need individual space.

Local coach Sarah Clark, from Mariposa Coaching, has participated in one of Backwell House’s events. Sarah said,

Backwell house is a beautiful venue steeped in history. Mariposa Coaching has been lucky enough to have a stand there on a regular basis at The Art of Wellbeing, a pop up wellness event. I have offered coaching tasters at a stand in their beautiful dining area with Georgian charm. Plus, talks on sustainable wellbeing, positive thinking and harmonious relationships in their cinema area which provides a relaxing and cosy event space. They even have a walled garden with doves in the dovecote.

Backwell House dining room
Backwell House dining room

4. Location / Easy access

Looking out over the countryside, you would have no idea that Backwell House is so well connected by road and air and is only 15 minutes’ drive from the bustling city of Bristol. Tucked away on the A370 in North Somerset, it’s easy to miss the beautiful wooded driveway that winds up into the grounds, taking you away from the main road.

The M5 and the M4 are both within easy reach and there is ample parking space. While Bristol International airport is only three miles away, making it easy for guests to arrive from many destinations, the venue is not on the flight path, meaning you can enjoy time here without aeroplanes flying overhead.  It’s a ten-minute walk to the local pub and shops and a bus to Bristol stops on the main road if you’d like to visit Bristol, but don’t fancy driving.

Relax in the bath with a view of the gardens
Relax in the bath with a view of the gardens

5. Labour of love

The story of this hotel is an interesting one as director Guy Williams spent three years living in a caravan in the grounds of the Georgian house as the project developed. His love for the hotel and grounds shines through as he talks about how it was restored. Where possible, things have been upcycled and reused in the project. Very little has gone to waste. The bar contains reclaimed wood from the floorboards and the mosaic pattern was carefully put together by Guy. It seems he has got everyone involved  – his mother made the curtains for the venue –  and his passion has infected the rest of his team.

Guy has chosen his team well. He wants the best when it comes to providing a homely and comfortable, yet sophisticated and luxurious ambience.  Guy has plans to make Backwell House bigger and add more rooms. I just hope that the expansion doesn’t mean losing the quality that he’s built up so far.

Treat yourself to a cocktail in the beautiful Backwell House bar
Treat yourself to a cocktail in the beautiful Backwell House bar

Would I hold a retreat here?

The answer to this question is yes. All in all, I loved the way the team looked after the personal touches at this boutique hotel. At the time of writing this post, the hotel has only nine rooms and there’s definitely an air of relaxed sophistication here.  Local products always score a high for me and the chef is more than capable of catering for all requirements.

I feel like it’s the sort of venue where you could leave your walking boots by the front door and change into your indoor shoes as if it were your own home, while enjoying the luxury of being looked after. The team would like you to feel at home and will happily provide drinks on the lawn on long summer evenings or cocktails around the fireplace in the winter.

Summer time Pimm’s on the lawn
Summer time Pimm’s on the lawn

If you decide to hold a retreat here, bear in mind that unless you book the whole venue, you may come across other guests either staying or dining at the hotel. I recommend that you, or your retreat event manager, visit any venue before booking to get a feel for the place to make sure that it’s right for you and your guests.

What you need to know

Room prices from £95 to £245 per night B&B

Menus start at £29 for 2 courses. £35 for 3 courses

Free parking

Website:  www.backwellhouse.co.uk

Contact details:   enquiries@backwellhouse.co.uk / 0117 325 110

Address: Backwell House, Farleigh Road, Bristol. BS48 3QA

 

I enjoyed a complimentary evening meal at Backwell House as a guest at the Bristol Bloggers event. All opinions, as always, are my own.

 

This post was first published on www.europeancoachingretreats.com

 

My big hairy avocado goal: setting goals and blogging

This week I spent a lovely morning at Bakesmiths in Bristol with business coach Linda Davies-Carr at her workshop on goals; Review Refresh Revive

When Linda first advertised this workshop as ‘a half way through the year review session’, I realised with a surprise that the year was almost half way through and I still hadn’t achieved many of my goals as a writer. It’s easy to go off track and get caught up in the other things going on life. So, I signed up for the workshop realising that this was an opportunity to recover my motivation.

One of the first things Linda asked us to do was complete a form with questions about our business. The first question asked if we have a business plan. As a retreat organiser, I have a business plan. However, as a writer I don’t have one. An ‘Aha moment’ came as I realised that I have not been paying attention to my writing goals. Actually, I wasn’t even sure what those goals were. So, it’s no wonder I don’t write as many blog posts as I’d like to; I am not taking myself seriously. I teach others to set goals using the wheel of life as part of wellbeing courses, but I clearly am not walking my talk in this area of my life.

So, why are goals important anyway?

Procrastination seems to be a popular word nowadays and ‘finding time to write’ is a common complaint among writers and business owners who write a blog. One of the great advantages of having a coach to help you set goals, is that you have someone you are accountable to. You set a goal with your coach, decide how best to achieve it, let your coach know what action you will take and then report back with your results. Not only do you not want to let your coach down, but you also feel motivated, so you get on and do it. Besides, it’s embarrassing telling your coach that you didn’t do it because the dog ate your notes, or whatever excuse we use. Setting goals helps to keep you going in the right direction. It gives you clarity. Your goals motivate you when you get stuck or can’t remember what you were supposed to be doing. They help you deal with overwhelm and create a strategy in your work.

The big hairy avocado goal

Linda talked about having a big hairy audacious goal (which I later misread as a big hairy avocado goal in my notes) and having smaller goals that you can tick off.

She suggested that we set thirty day, sixty day and ninety day goals as well as twelve month goals and five year goals. If you are thinking ‘I don’t have time for that’, Linda also pointed out that for every minute we spend planning, we later save ten minutes in execution.

The big hairy goal is usually the one you are working towards long-term. Whether that’s to own a boat and navigate the world, to write a book, to own a beautiful home, to set up a charity or to earn a five-figure income from your blog. It’s the dream-big one.

Take action

Linda repeated the importance of acting immediately. So, after the workshop I set about writing my goals as a writer. I’ve committed myself to writing two blog posts a week for my own blog, a guest post once a month for other blogs and to write two articles a month that I can sell. Each goal has a deadline, a list of things I can do to achieve it and three things that I can do to move me towards that goal. It was exciting to see my goals taking shape as I planned how to achieve them. I have also set myself a financial goal. And, of course a goal to write a business plan for my freelance writing career. Now I have posted this online, I also have to be accountable to you, lovely reader or, alternatively, find a blog-eating dog and attempt to deny all knowledge of any goals. In other words, it will now be hard to let you down. Not only do I feel motivated, but I’ve also made a commitment.

Make goal setting fun

Make it creative. Sit somewhere inspiring, get yourself a drink and plenty of water to keep hydrated, put on some music, create a vision board, use different colour pens, buy yourself a special notebook, use coloured paper, whatever makes it enjoyable for you. Find someone to help you gain clarity whether that’s a brainstorming session with a friend or a coaching session. Writing your goals down provides a visual reminder of what you need to do. Many experts believe that writing goals down has a powerful effect. Check out Brian Tracy to find out more. Make sure you can see your goals every day. Linda’s advice is “do something towards your goals every day to keep up your momentum”.

Now I’m accountable to you, dear reader

So, will goal setting as a travel and personal development blogger help me to take myself seriously? In other words, will I write more blog posts? I’m hoping you will be able to see for yourself by watching my blog grow week by week. I don’t want to let you or myself down, so I have set dates on my calendar for each goal that I have set myself. I also don’t want to let my personal coach down – she has worked hard with me to help me gain clarity and create a vision of where I want to be with my writing career. I have my goals written down in a pretty notebook – there’s one on each page and today I brainstormed where I want to be in five year’s time. I feel motivated and in the last few days I have been far more productive as I look at my goals and get to work on them. And guess what? It feels good.

I hope this article has been useful and would love to hear your comments in the box below.

Spicy chocolate, truffles and change

Chocolate, the perfect business

As I sip my spicy hot chocolate, the flavour hits the tip of my tongue. Cinnamon, cloves, chilli and star anise. It’s warm, exotic and luxurious.  Just like hot chocolate should be.spicy spoon and mug

I stir my chocolate and think of Nicola Eaton.  When anyone mentions living the ideal life and having the dream job to Nicola, she shrugs and smiles to herself. She considers she already has her ideal lifestyle.

“I don’t need to go up Everest. I’m very happy with the life I’ve got.”

As the owner and creator of The Really Expensive Chocolate Company, it might be easy for some of us to see why Nicola is so happy with her choice.

So, how did she make the transition from children’s nurse to running her own chocolate company?

At the workshop

As I sat down and got ready to interview Nicola, she whipped me up a hot chocolate. She used cacao powder from her new source. It’s the same powder that she uses for her hot chocolate cubes.

I first met Nicola at a network meeting, so I know a bit about her already, but I was keen to find out more.

We settled down with our chocolate and some almond and lemon curd biscuits that Nicola bought at the Doynton market on Saturday.  I was feeling rather privileged to be spending an hour of a Monday morning sipping hot chocolate and listening to Nicola’s story.

Nicola has converted her garage into her workshop. It’s bright and light. There’s a table in the middle, two chocolate making machines and a small kitchen area. A corner with paperwork and a printer where Nicola prints transfers to go directly onto white chocolate.

box of chocs
Assorted truffles in orange, lime and strawberry chocolate flavours

Nicola has been making chocolate here since 2009. In this quiet, tranquil room this is where it all happens. The chocolate gets designed, made, tasted, packed and sent out. She also runs adult workshops here.

How it all started

It might be fair to say that chocolate-making found Nicola rather than the opposite. Although chocolate has always had an influence in her life, as Nicola’s great uncle used to work for Cadbury at Bournville. She remembers going there as a child and her great uncle would bring home misshapes for her to eat.

“Chocolates with caramel in them; they were bashed about, but they were lovely.”

In 2006 Nicola’s family gave her a voucher for Betty’s in Harrogate.  Betty’s, a well-established tea room with a cookery school, offers a wide range of courses. Nicola chose to spend her voucher on a chocolate-making workshop. She had a lovely day there and came back with a big bag of chocolates she had made. Wanting to make the most of her new skill, Nicola began making chocolate as presents for family.

From children’s nurse to chocolate maker

At the time Nicola began making chocolate, she was involved in research for palliative care for children.  She started her working life as a children’s nurse in Great Ormond Street, moved to Wales to study a PHD and then taught nursing and computing at university.

People liked the chocolate she was making and started to ask her if they could buy it.gift box

“Would I make some for them to buy?”

There’s a slight hint of amazement in her tone, as though she still can’t quite believe it.

From her kitchen, Nicola started making chocolate by hand. She approached a local village market in Doynton and started to sell her chocolate there on a Saturday morning.  In 2007, she set up a little business using the smallest of the three machines that are now in her workshop.

Nicola began to understand her clients and what they would buy.  In 2008 a three-day business course helped her with branding. She had called herself Nicola’s Chocolates, but decided that, if she was going to make this work, she needed a name that sounded more business-like. She chose The Really Expensive Chocolate Company.

As Nicola began to sell more, she took the decision to give up her day job to concentrate on making chocolate full time in 2009.

Nicola now works with Julie who helps her taste, make chocolate and pack, and she regularly works with freelancer, Jo Rymell, photographer and graphic designer from Hot Hibiscus Design. Jo designs the personalised labels that are Nicola’s speciality, making the chocolate bars an ideal gift.

At busy times of the year she also employs local students looking for some extra income to construct boxes for her.

Getting her business off the ground

Nicola sells most of her chocolate online via her website and has an Etsy shop called Belgian Chocolate Shop.belgian choc shop

She goes regularly to local markets and craft fairs. She also does talks and demonstrations at Women’s Institute meetings, friendship groups and Rotary groups. She had just received a phone call before I arrived to book her again for next year.

“I take a lot of chocolate samples. I take champagne truffles ganache and I make truffles while I’m there and I dip them in chocolate.”  No wonder they keep inviting her back.

M-TRF-CHAM-12-1_large
Champagne Truffles

“I give them a history of chocolate, how it’s made. Just a few facts I’ve picked up along the way,” she said modestly. The audience also get a 10% discount to spend on her products. She told me about the Mayans and how the Spanish took cacao beans back to Spain and made a thick chocolate drink with them. Nicola liked it when I told her the Spanish still make this drink. I made a mental note to bring Nicola some Spanish hot chocolate on my next visit to Spain.

We talked about the importance of finding support at networking groups. Nicola regularly attends a local ladies networking group, Ladies Who Latte .

“When I met the group about two years ago, my business sort of turned a corner. It was really helpful. Through Ladies Who Latte, I had the impetus to set up a new website. I met Jo, she did lots of photos for me. We’re friends now.”

She often takes samples of her work with her for us to taste. At meetings Nicola tells us how wonderful it is to work with Jo. She’s very generous when it comes to recommending the people in the group that she has worked with.

Tasting time

Spicy Hot Chocolate Spoon based on 17th century recipe.

Nicola has also been approached by the National Trust to make spicy spoons from a 17th Century recipe found at Dyrham Park, near Bath.
“You have to get all the spices right. Julie and I spent ages drinking hot chocolate, just to try and get the flavour right”

She laughed as she remembers that one sample had too much chilli.

“We couldn’t taste anything for the next hour!”

She told me that the volumes of spices used vary, depending whether the spices are in the powder or in the chocolate itself. When milk is added to the powder it affects the quantity of spices.

“So, we had to taste quite a few of those too,” she added.

Nicola likes to be able to identify all the spices, “I don’t particularly like very strong chilli, but actually, in chocolate it’s very nice.”

I have to agree.

“When you are making things like this, you have to try a lot of hot chocolate” joked Nicola.

The feel-good factor

We talked about the benefits of chocolate.

“It lowers blood pressure and cholesterol. It’s good for your heart. It’s good for senile dementia. It reduces stress” It also contains iron and magnesium.

The Really Expensive Chocolate Company uses Belgian chocolate. Nicola uses only cocoa mass, cocoa butter, sugar and milk (if it’s milk chocolate). All her chocolate is gluten free and the dark chocolate is dairy free. She makes a range of Moo free chocolate and the 80% dark chocolate has very little sugar.

As well as the health benefits, Nicola understands how chocolate connects to others. It’s a way of showing you care.

“Of course,” she reminded me, “the three Quaker families (Cadbury, Rowntree and Fry) who advocated the drinking of chocolate in the U.K., instead of alcohol, were philanthropists who looked after their workers.”

Show you care with chocolate

For businesses who are looking for something special to give their clients or members of staff, Nicola can “make chocolate to help their business.”

Personalised wrappers
Personalised wrappers

Nicola’s speciality is personalisation. She makes bespoke labels for her bars, making them ideal gifts for events, place names at weddings and dinner parties and thank you presents.  Or, have your logo printed straight onto white chocolate with edible ink. It’s a bit like putting a transfer onto chocolate and looks fantastic. A great touch for business. She also makes letters and numbers and is currently exploring with Lego®.

logo on white choc
Company logo on white chocolate

The philanthropist and chocolate fits. While Nicola has changed her career, she’s still very much involved in caring for children. She’s a trustee of the Jessie May Trust, a volunteer at a messy church play session and sometimes looks after some local children. Until recently she was also a school governor.

Time to go

I left with a spicy spoon and instructions to report back. The sort of homework I like. I have enjoyed talking to this warm, generous and unassuming lady. Later as I drink my spicy spoon, I realise that Nicola’s nature is reflected in her chocolate. I feel peaceful, relaxed and content.

It would be hard to say which of Nicola’s chocolate is my favourite as it is all so good, but as a dark chocolate lover, I am going to go for the 80% dark chocolate. And, I highly recommend the spicy spoon.

choc spoon

Where to buy  

Website: https://www.recc.co.uk/

Etsy shop – https://BelgianChocolateShop.etsy.com

Doynton Market: http://www.doyntonvillage.org/events.html