Members 56. One Year No Beer

As I write, I’m beginning day week four, day 22 of the challenge. Just 344 to go, if you’re counting. In case you are wondering, beer is the catch-all for alcohol. No booze for a year.

Why?

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Living the Dream – 76. Property Repairs

Property repairs, not my thing.

We are fortunate to live in a villa with a pool, set on a substantial plot in a beautiful spot. My Mum and Dad bought the land, commissioned architects and builders to create it. That was more than a quarter of a century ago, and the house has been permanently occupied for most of that time. Discounting decoration, the house is unchanged. We have done some work outside – recommissioning the pool, and having a fence built around the property.

Internals

Now, our attention has turned to the inside. First order of business, bathrooms. We are renovating the guest bathroom and our own, main bathroom. We have a quote from our favoured contractor, and are now investigating materials.

There’s a bathroom store, quite local to us. A charming salesman swooped upon us before I had even closed the door. He toured us around the store, furiously taking notes. So far, so good. We’ve done renovations in the UK, and it worked much the same way.

“How much are those tiles?” I asked.

Antonis, our salesman squinted at the fading sticker on the corner.

“22€ per square metre. I’ll do it for 13.”

I nodded, feigning disinterest. Inside, my mind was whirring. 22-13 is 9. 9 over 22 is, give or take, 30%. Blimey.

In the UK, we had been given a price and then, at the end attempted to get a discount. Usually we had got some, but 30%? Never. As we toured the store, I kept stealing glances at Antonis’ notes. Some items we were getting 50% discount. Awesome.

Two days later, we received an itemised quote, covering everything we need for the two bathrooms, from tiles to toilet roll holders. Instinctively, some of the prices look really good, while others look expensive.

Project Management

Here comes my masterstroke. I have put Mags in charge. She is Project Manager. We’ve agreed a provisional budget, and I have declared myself entirely comfortable with whatever decisions she makes. She is drilling down into each cost, and sourcing alternate suppliers, including recycling some of the existing items. Mags possesses a ruthless, investigative streak that I lack. I’m confident we will know what prices we should be paying.

Most importantly, Mags has “an eye” for things. I’ll be honest, once the bathroom has changed, I’ll instantly stop noticing it. I’ll struggle to tell anyone what colour it is, without going to check. Mags sees detail. Constantly. She is a perfectionist. This is, in equal measure, a superpower and a curse. Inspecting work, she misses nothing, meaning that any and all contractors get away with no corner-cutting. On the other hand, once she has spotted something, she can’t un-see it. It’s really, really difficult for her to be accepting of imperfection.

Property Repairs

For example, the floors throughout the house are concrete, and in places are showing their age. Replacing them however, is a big, disruptive and expensive job. One that we have decided not worth doing, at this point. That decision doesn’t stop Margaret noticing every blemish, every day.

Predictions

I predict that we are going to end up with two sparkling bathrooms at a reasonable cost. Whether the contractor will survive the process remains to be seen. My role? Possibly peacemaking from time to time, but mostly, it’ll be the paying thing.

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Members 55. Writing School

This year, in Members, I am going to write alternate weeks on Writing and Lifestyle. The first series of lifestyle posts will focus on my decision to stop drinking alcohol.

I titled the writing series “My novel and I – a battle to the death.” A shade melodramatic, but indicative of how I’m feeling about Sean.

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Working Tools 28. Analogue v Digital 1. Calendars

I am afflicted with infatuations both for the analogue world of stationery and the digital applications for Apple hardware. Mix those in with a desire to be as productive as possible, and a large degree of experimentation is inevitable.

Over the next few #Working Tools posts (alternate Fridays), I’ll talk you through the bare-knuckle fights, one by one.

Calendars

In the red, (analogue) corner, The Economist Diary 2020 by Collins Debden, weighing in at super heavy.

In the blue, (digital) corner, ical, google calendar, the calendar app and Timepage by Moleskine, weighing in at well, nothing.

Red Corner

The Economist Diary is a tome. A big, heavy book. Mine is the signature red, week to two pages view, in a leatherette cover. It sits handsomely on my desk, telling me, and everyone else, that I’m a proper, serious business person. I write in it with a broad-nibbed fountain pen. Including only the most weighty and important of appointments.

Blue Corner

I have 18 calendars, split across iCal and Google. Some are mine, and some are shared. I have a core set always on, and others just a click away. My dog’s worming schedule is in here, alongside a meditation calendar. Eclectic.

The fight

My Personal Assistant copies all of my appointments from the Economist Diary into my electronic calendars. She is permanently at my side with her iPhone, lest I need to check Spice’s worming schedule. This allows me to flick through the diary attaining useful statistics, when not writing in flowery script. Did you know that in 2010, the Department of Work and Pensions employed 133,500 people?

The trouble is, I don’t have a Personal Assistant.

So, the diary exists as a very expensive sledgehammer to crack the nut of time blocking my week.

The electronic calendars are THE truth, particularly for Margaret and I, who keep abreast of each other through them.

Killer punch

The “shareability” of electronic calendars is unbeatable. I can access them at my desk, on my couch, in the car, heck, even on my wrist.

That said, the diary will remain on my desk, and does get used every week – even if only lightly.

By the way, did you know that the National Income per person in Chad, in $, in 2018, was 654? I bet that’s not in your calendar, is it?

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Members 54. Epiphany! Epiphany! They’ve all got it…

Wow! Alcohol holds a powerful place in our society. Told that I am not going to drink alcohol for a year, people react in a variety of ways. Some are flat out incredulous. Others nod sadly, (which is disconcerting). One or two respond positively, but these are a minority.

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Living the Dream – 75. Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to you!

Christmas

How were the holidays for you? We’ve had a cracking time.

Christmas was at the mountain hideaway, just Mags, Spice and I. The weather was boisterous, but we managed to get Spice out for a windswept walk on Christmas morning.

Travel

On the 28th, we loaded up the car and headed off for a week in Turkey. Now, Turkey is less than 300 miles from Cyprus, but it’s complicated.

Since 1974, Cyprus has been effectively partitioned. I live in the Republic of Cyprus, which is the officially recognised country. The Northern part of Cyprus is termed the “Illegally Occupied Territories.” In those territories, and in Turkey, the area is known as the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. In recent years, relations have thawed a little – and people are permitted to cross from one side to the other through a series of border posts.

Our journey therefore to drive to one of these crossing points, park on the Republic side and be collected by a Taxi from the Turkish side. The taxi took us to the airport, and we made the short hop to Antalya, on the southern coast of Turkey. I’ll talk about the holiday in another post.

Once across the internal border, our cell phones lose signal, and will not connect to local services. Likewise, there is no roaming agreement between Cyprus and Turkey. Wifi gets us round this, but it is extraordinary that such a thing should persist in the 21st century.

World Events

While in Turkey, the USA killed General Qassim Suleimani. Iran, and to a lesser extent Iraq, where the killing took place, are, if not disgruntled, certainly less than gruntled. The region is in flames. War, of one form or another, rages across Iran, Iraq and Syria. Not to mention Yemen.

One of our party commented,

“It’s all a long way from us though…”

Another replied

“Absolutely, after all, Syria is a full 50 miles from Cyprus.”

Happy New Year, eh?

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Members 53. Cheers!

Sober, I want to be moderate. Moderate, I fancy another drink. Or two. At that point, I’m either having such a good time that another drink is in order, or I’m bored; perhaps another drink will help?

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Going Solo 23. Action Plan Key Initiatives

I wrote last week about my review process and how it related to Nero’s Notes.

I’m working on identifying the key initiatives that we will implement this year to improve performance.

Top 3

1. Newsletter. In 2019, we sent far fewer e-mails to customers. To me, they felt toxic. Facebook and Google were being creepy, the GDPR had come in and Mailchimp and Shopify had fallen out. I think that it’s time to reinstate some communication. The exact nature of it, I’m not sure yet, but the focus will be on delivering value to subscribers without harvesting data.
2. Prioritise Content. Nero’s Notes is, at its core, about using and enjoying analogue tools. We curate analogue experiences. Amanda, Scrib and I write not just about new products, but about why and how we use them. I am keen to bring this more to the fore.
3. Affiliates. We have had some success with Affiliate marketing in 2019. I would like to build on that. Logistics are challenging, in terms of getting the right levels of stock in at the right time.

That’s it. Those are the three key initiatives.

Of course, there are all the usual challenges of running a business. Supply chain, cost control, pricing and margin and so on. We hope to get better at all of those too.

Funding

As indicated last week, the objective is to nudge the company into being cash generative this year. This will influence how I implement the three initiatives.

For example, the newsletter. One possibility is to outsource the production. There are people out there who specialise in newsletters and product promotions. I suspect they are pretty good at it too. However, there’s a cost. A cost that will slow return on investment. I also believe that part of our success is our tone, which is genuine and personal. Inevitably, that risks being diluted if someone else starts communicating on our behalf.

The same is true of content. It is tempting to identify a third party to implement a new theme on the Shopify platform and change how the site looks and behaves. Experience tells me that the cost of this would be significant and a certainty, where the return would be a variable and speculative. It turns out, that designing a web store with many products and variants is difficult.

I will focus on coordinating content and social media, making it easier for people to discover the excellent pieces that Amanda and Scrib contribute.

Affiliates should be simple. Plenty of people write nice things about us already. This is a way to measure that and reward the writer.

Budget

Next week – how I estimate the impact of the actions on the business, and decide how much investment I will make in each.

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Members 52. The Election

The Election is done. My prediction was spot on, Politicians won.

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Going Solo 22. Nero’s Notes Review

Nero’s Notes Review

Neros Notes is a trading style of Loggedoff Ltd. The company began trading in February 2017. To date, I have taken no salary and the company has lost money each year. Ballpark figures, the company lost 40k in Year one, 11k in Year 2 and looks like maybe a 5k loss in the year to end in January 2020.

Not exactly Apple or Amazon, is it?

My writing is supported by people like you. The remainder of this post is reserved for Members. Membership costs £12 per year. For this princely sum, you will get access to subscriber only posts, direct access to a members chatroom , and a digital copy of any and all work that I publish in the year. Become a member.