Going Solo 14. Loggedoff Ltd.

Loggedoff Ltd was born in 2017. My wife, Margaret, observed that “Stuart Lennon, Writer” was messing up the house, eating too much, drinking too much and not exercising enough. James and I had examined hundreds of businesses for sale, but not found one that enthused us both. I started to canvas clients for Lime, and then stumbled across another opportunity.

Pocketnotebooks.co.uk was a website that sold Field Notes and a few other brands of pocket notebook. It was a side project of two guys up in Newcastle. It was clear from their blog that the site was at a crossroads. One thing led to another, and I gave the guys some cash for the name and the stock, and became an internet retailer.

Mistakes

I ignored almost all of the advice that I have given you in this series. I spent too much, too quickly and have spent the last 12 months focused on slimming the cost-base of the business, putting it into a position to become cash generative. The site is now branded as Nero’s Notes, named after our beloved miniature schnauzer, whom we lost last year.

The business remains based in the UK, even though I am now in Cyprus. Clare runs the physical side of the business from a small office in Amesbury, and I fulfil the virtual tasks from my home office beneath the house here.

I’m still too close to the fridge, and there’s a temptation to forego exercise entirely – but that is all about self-discipline. Margaret has observed that my waistline is growing again. This has led me to consider how I look at my various projects.

Realisation

I’m lucky in that I have Lime, SL.com and Nero’s Notes. I am my own boss, and can sneak off to play golf whenever I want. However, I have allowed lines to blur. If there is something organised – then I’m doing that, at any other time, I’m working. If I am not working, then I am feeling guilty about not working. So I exercise less, eat more (comfort-eating) and drink more (escapism).

It is only by writing the paragraph above that I have come to understand the paragraph above. I have had an epiphany. Once I have finished this post, I am going to think about and establish some boundaries for Loggedoff Ltd, for Lime and for this blog. Me being me, I’ll work this out on paper, in my bullet journal.

Lesson

The lesson here is that we must keep an eye on ourselves. It’s too easy to fall into a trap of doing more and more, without focusing on doing the right things.

Next week 1857.

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Members 39. Camino Peace

My annual Camino has become my favourite week of the year. Although the route is a pilgrimage, I’m not a pilgrim. I am not a man of faith, nor am I a strident atheist.

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Living the Dream – 64. Camino IV Part II

Camino IV Part II is brought to you by the magic of the internet. This post, and every post this week, has published while I am walking in Northern Spain.

Last Walking Day

Today, Friday, is our last walking day on this trip. If everything has gone to plan, then we awoke this morning in Herreriás, our last stop in the Province of Castille y Léon. Dinner was at 2,100 feet above sea-level. Desayuno Dos (Breakfast 2, taken after a couple of hours walking) will be at close to 4,000 ft above sea-level. Not our highest ascent on this trip, but probably the steepest climb.

As we lean into the hill and trudge up, we will cross into Galicia, the last province of Spain on the Camino. Galicia is fertile and verdant. Put another way, it is the wettest place in Europe. Must be a reasonable chance it will rain on us. Breakfast 2 will be taken at O’Cebreiro, from where Triacastela, our end point for this year, is a gentle 4 or 5 hours away.

Mechanised Again

At Triacastela, we’ll get a bus or a cab to Sarria, where we have a hotel booked. Sarria has direct transport links to Santiago, from whence we fly home. So, getting there at the end of Friday makes for a much less stressful Saturday, when we can get a morning train to Santiago and spend a couple of hours in the city before heading to the airport.

Santiago de Compostella

I suspect those few hours in Santiago will be odd. All the other pilgrims will be elated – they have finished. Stu and I will undoubtedly feel slightly fraudulent, being 83 miles short. Still, I’m sure we will identify where we might have our celebratory dinner next year.

Camino V

2020, we will resume our pilgrimage from Triacastela, and complete the 500 miles from St Jean Pied de Port to Santiago de Compostela.

The days after a camino are a bit sad. I feel tired, and in my case, want sleep and carbohydrates in equal part. The mind feels refreshed from the meditative nature of the endeavour but simultaneously shocked by the re-immersion into the modern world. I’m glad to be back at home with Margaret and Spice, but a pert of me  A part of me wants to go to bed early, rise early, and lace up my shoes for another long walk.

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Going Solo 13. Paperback writer

I’ll become a paperback writer.

We had sold MTI and I took some time to decompress.

Since childhood, I had nurtured the idea that I was meant to be an author.

If not now, then when?

I set about converting a corner of the living room to my writer’s den, I bought an iMac and every book on writing that I could lay my hands on. I began following writers, both established, and aspiring, on Twitter.

It occurred to me that some point, I ought to write something. But what? It wasn’t as though I had a specific story in me, straining to burst from my chest.

I started this blog to chart the progress of the novel, of my becoming a paperback writer.

I thought I might write about my time in Central Europe. So, I bought Scrivener.

Nothing happened.

Well, not nothing exactly. I spent a lot of time on the internet and in the fridge. Then, I discovered NaNoWriMo. National Novel Writing Month. Check out the website, but the concept is pretty simple. Write 50,000 words during the calendar month of November. So I did. It was all going so well, I wrote drafts for two novels. Around 90,000 words. Then I realised a few things.

1. A novel is a novel, a memoir is a memoir. My “novel” was more of a memoir and was interesting to me, but not to anyone else.
2. A first draft is a milestone, but it is a long way from a destination.
3. Writing fast for a thing like NaNoWriMo without a clear plan and outline produces a lot of words, just not necessarily in the right order.

The novel is not yet on the shelves, but it’s getting there. Words on this blog, added up would be pretty close to novel length too.

There is a membership option on the site, which grants access to members-only posts and electronic copies of any work that I publish in the year. Almost pre-sales of the novel, if you like.

Next week, Loggedoff Ltd.

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Members 38. 10. Wild East. Hungary

Hungary is my favourite place. My time living there was alternated with the Czech Republic and the two places are permanently linked for me. I forever compare them.

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Living the Dream – 63. Camino IV

Camino IV begins the day after this post publishes. I’m off to Northern Spain again.

Route

Over six days, I will walk 109.5 miles (176.2 Km). This is Camino IV of V, and next year we have 83 miles left of the 500 mile pilgrimage that we began in Southern France at St Jean Pied de Port.

I wrote last week about the complexity of getting to this year’s start point, but once there, things get really simple, really fast.

Simplicity

The Camino Francés is marked out by scallop shells and yellow arrows. Sometimes on the street, some times on signs or even just painted onto trees. It’s perfectly possible to complete the camino without ever looking at a map. You just follow the yellow arrows.

Pilgrims stay in Albergués (hostels) or hotels. There are thousands of them along the route. Many pilgrims walk until they are tired, stop and rest for the night. Others, all buy the same guide book, and replicate the walks and stops made in the book (this leads to bottlenecks in the featured stops and empty beds in all the other possiblities). Now, as seasoned pilgrims, we know our distances and we pre-book rooms, off the featured list.

Most of Saturday will be spent getting to our hotel. Stu, my friend, and I will have supper and catch up over too much wine. The night will end early though, the threat of a 20 mile walk in the morning sending us to bed. On Sunday we rise, pack leave the hotel and follow the yellow arrows.

Daily Routine

If things go as they usually do, then Sunday will work as follows.

Leave the hotel around 7am after a coffee and croissant. We will walk from the centre of the city to the outskirts as the sun rises. It’s early Sunday in Spain, there will be nobody but pilgrims up and about. Around 9, we will reach La Virgen del Camino (Pop. 3,100) where Stu will have Desayuno Dos (Breakfast #2). We will strike on, having naturally moved from warm-up speed to cruising-speed. 3 hours or so will take us to Villadangos del Paramo. This is a “stop” in the most popular guidebook, so many pilgrims will be rushing here to try to get a bed in the “best” hostel. We will stop for lunch – probably a sandwich and a cold beer with our shoes and socks off.

Rested, we will set off for a destination, Hospital de Orbigo, which is another couple of hours up the road. All things being equal, we will arrive at our hotel at 3, 4 o’clock. We’ll check in, shower, change and get our dirty clothes washed and dried (or hung up). Then, to a bar with a decent terrace, phone home, write our journals and reflect on a good day. We’ll find dinner, laugh and joke with some fellow pilgrims and then hit the sack.

The next five days will follow the same pattern. Simple.

Packing

Now that we have settled into this routine, packing is easy for Camino IV. In the morning, I am wearing boxers, socks, shorts and a t shirt. I have a warm layer and a waterproof if I need them. In my bag, there’s another set of boxers and socks, some lightweight jogging pants, and another t shirt. Flip flops, some wash kit, first aid kit, charging leads for watch and phone, journal kit and guide book. That’s pretty much it.

The joy of the camino is its simplicity.

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Going Solo. 12. MTI

MTI stood for Money Transfer International (UK) Ltd. It was a placeholder while we were writing the business plan. We forgot to change it.

Cyprus

As Lime, I was consulting to a Cypriot group that was the MoneyGram super-agent in Cyprus. I had managed a super-agent in Central Europe for the market-leader in money transfer, Western Union.

It became apparent to me that Moneygram was mounting a challenge to Western Union and that there might be opportunity beyond Cyprus. I discussed this with my friend and ex-colleague, James. Together we approached MoneyGram in the headquarters of their European operations, in London.

Long story short, Moneygram appointed MTI as a super-agent for the UK. MTI consisted of James and I, a few silent shareholders and a business plan. We took an office in London (I phoned my now-wife and asked her if she could find me a flat as I was moving to the UK in ten days) and bought ourselves laptops.

London

James and I built MTI from the ground up. We were Sales, Marketing, Compliance, Finance and Admin, as well as anything else that needed doing.

It was our ambition to be debt-free. James has a cost-control instinct that borders on ruthlessness, and it served us well. We under-estimated how long it would take the company to become generative, so after two months, we halved our salaries.

Simplicity

Our competitors completed detailed thorough research on how best to recruit retailers.

We recruited retailers.

Competitors recruited debt collectors and lawyers to reduce bad debt.

We escorted bad debts to their banks and took our money there and then.

Success

We met some dodgy people, we met some wonderful people. We worked very long hours, long days and weeks. The business made us laugh and cry, sometimes in the same day. We fought like cat and dog at times, but allied, we were an irresistable force.

For 10 years we worked and built a significant multi-national company that kept us well. The time came when we foresaw that our interests were diverging from those of our principal, MoneyGram, and we agreed to sell to them.

We both went to lie down in a dark room for a while.

Then, I decided to write for a living…

Next week, Paperback writer.

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Members 37. Wild East 9. Czech Mate

The Czech Republic is an extraordinary place. Over 10 years, I was based in Prague for 5 or so.

Full of wonder, misplaced confidence, and beer, my friends and I owned the Czech Republic, or thought we did. We referred to Prague 1 (the centre), as Wonderland. The architecture, the cobbled streets, and the legions of tourists lend themselves to descriptions of Disney.

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Living the Dream -62. Connectivity

Broadband

I quickly took connectivity for granted. I was frustrated how long it took to get fibre internet in our village, seventy five miles from London. However, once it arrived; bliss.

Airports

Southampton, Bournemouth, Heathrow and Gatwick are all less than ninety minutes drive from that same village. Four more airports could easily be reached in an additional half an hour. Traffic was a pain, but hey, that’s life.

Internet connectivity at the mountain hideaway is not too bad. We have two lines fused together (apparently), and usually, things work. Now and again the TV buffers or the connection drops, but hey, that’s life. Right?

Camino

8 days from now, I’m off to Spain to walk a section of theCamino de Santiago, the same as I have for the last three years. This year, we’re starting from Léon, which is a bit awkwardly placed for flights.

My friend, conveniently also named Stu, is coming from Dublin.

He is getting a flight at 0615 BST which will arrive at Madrid 0850 BST. It’s then a 3.5 hour bus ride to Léon. Poor chap.

Journey

Now. My little journey.

I’m getting a flight at 0310 BST, which means leaving the house at 0010. The flight is to Athens. At 0710 BST, I’m getting another flight, arriving at Madrid at 1100 BST. Then the joys of a 3.5 hour bus.

As it’s a Saturday, the bus leaves at 14:45, so we’ll be arriving in Léon at 18:15. That’s an 18 hour trip.

All being well, we will walk about 19 miles a day for 6 days and end up in Sarria. I’m willing to wager that supper will be long, and liquid.

On Saturday, we will catch a train to Santiago. (2 and a half hours.) Stu’s flight is at 1700. He’ll be at home in time for dinner with his family.

My flight is at 1705. To Frankfurt. I’m due to land in Cyprus at 0215 on Sunday morning. I’ll creep into the kitchen about 0430.

Suddenly, I miss connectivity.

Aluminium tubes apart, the camino is a fantastic experience and one that I recommend to everybody. I’ll happily pay a small fortune to hang about in airports to get there. 🙂

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Going Solo. 11. Lime Training and Consultancy Ltd.

My oldest solo project is Lime Training and Consultancy Ltd. (Lime)

Origins

I set Lime up in 2003. Having moved from Budapest to Cleethorpes in 2002, I was working as a barman, and as a consultant. A foreign exchange business was considering expanding into France. I had lived and worked in Paris in the same industry during the late 80’s and 90’s, and therefore made for a pretty good guide.

Talking to my client, it became apparent that I had an opportunity to sell different elements of my expertise and experience to a number of companies, as an external resource. So, I did.

Growth

The business sustained me through until the end of 2005. I never hired anyone and managed every element of the business myself. Once or twice, I was on the cusp of taking that critical step of evolving from a company of one.

I was offering training for point of sale teams and line managers. I was offering business consultancy projects (Paris for example) and management consultancy, where I was working inside a business, putting it in a position to grow. I got to the point where I needed to be in more than one place at a time. Could I have someone else provide the training, while I was business consulting?

Research

I explored the idea with clients.

The answer was unequivocally, “No.”

In a nutshell, companies were hiring me because it was me. I don’t mean that to sound arrogant. Let me explain.

I’m a good trainer. I communicate well, I enthuse and inspire. However, there are many trainers that do that. My customer service training is well designed, researched and tested. Well, there is a lot of excellent customer service training on the market.

Point of Difference

My difference was my authenticity. I was training people who worked at the counters of foreign exchange bureaux. I had been there. Night shifts opposite the Pompidou centre, Sunday afternoons in St Tropez, rainy winter days on the left bank, I’d done them. Such authenticity is not unique.

However, frontline experience, excellent material, strong delivery and multi-lingual presentation – it was rare to find that wrapped up in one person.

I realised that I could expand in scope and size, but risked undermining the very thing that customers desired. On the other hand, I could charge a premium, keep overhead low and make more money that way.

Evolution

Over the years, Lime has evolved and mostly offers anti money laundering consultancy. The principles however remain the same. When companies engage Lime, they engage me – someone who has been in the compliance hot seat across multiple jurisdictions. But that’s a tale for another post.

Next week, Money Transfer International.

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