Living the Dream -61. Aluminium Tubes

I came home in an aluminium tube emblazoned with the bright orange logos of EasyJet. It is a no-frills airline. In my recent experience, flag carrier airlines are now no frills airlines, but with much higher prices. I stubbornly carried on using British Airways, until even I could no longer claim that the flight experience was appreciably better and worth the money.

Change

Overall, no-frills aluminium tubes have had a massive impact on the world. More travel is accessible to more people, which is good, until you start thinking about carbon emissions and the like. However, for me, the biggest impact has been on expectations. As a younger man, airline travel was exotic and exciting. Liveried personnel served me “free” drinks and called me “Sir”. Now, air travel is on an aluminium tube with wings. A very full bus. In terms of service, I expect nothing and usually get less than that. I eat and drink before I fly, board, sit and put on headphones.

Expectations

In the past, pre-flight, I fervently hoped for an empty seat next to me. I wondered what new release would be on the in-flight entertainment system. Previously, I planned for a G&T and a glass of wine. I made judgments on the airline based upon the service that I received. Now? I expect not to eat or drink anything, although I might buy a cup of tea. I’m certain that there will be sharp-elbowed individual in the middle seat, next to me. There will be one bathroom for the entire passenger load and the whole experience will inspire novels written from the point of view of a farm animal going to slaughter.

No crash gets 9 out of 10, no crash and being on time-ish gets 10.

Stress

All this has made the experience of flying much worse, but the stress much less. As my expectation has changed, there is less unexpected. I used to be annoyed when the airport and airline attempted to herd me from wait to wait. Now, I shrug. I was mystified how airlines could bring me food at 12, but not offer me wine to accompany it until 12:30. Now, I expect no food and no drink.

Follow up on last week.

1. Car Hire. I paid £99 for the manual, and asked about upgrading to an automatic. An additional £140. I demurred, and by the time the trip finished, I was mostly remembering to change gears.
2. Weather. Mostly moist.
3. People. Exhausting, as expected.

Overall, it was a good trip both professionally and personally.

I really could do without the cold that I picked up, presumably on one of the aluminium tubes.

At the end of the day, there’s a lot to be said for staying home.

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Going Solo. 10. Multiple Businesses

Multiple businesses is a side-effect of Going Solo. New projects can become an addiction.

My Journey

In Summer 2002 I got fired. My time in Central Europe came to an abrupt end. I moved from Budapest to Cleethorpes, a seaside town on the North Sea coast of England.

Consequently, I became a barman to try pay some bills and setup my first company. Stuart didn’t jump into Going Solo, he got pushed.

Lime Training and Consultancy was incorporated in February of 2003, although I had been trading as a sole trader in the second half of 2002. I was providing customer service training to the foreign exchange industry. I didn’t have a printer, so I used a print shop to put together training materials.

Money Transfer

In April 2003, my marriage broke up and I moved in with my Mum, in Cyprus. Lime spawned a Cypriot sister company. I started consulting for a local company offering MoneyGram money transfers. In 2004, I teamed up with the guy that fired me (A long story…) to setup Money Transfer International (UK) Ltd (MTI) and moved back to the UK.

Subsequently, the Cyprus company was folded up, but I kept Lime going, and it is still going now.

For 10 years, my professional life was all about MTI, until we sold the business in 2014.

stuartlennon.com

Footloose and fancy-free, I started this blog, ostensibly to record the writing of my novel. No novel yet, but I’m getting there, honest!

Pocket Notebooks

In 2016, I rediscovered my childhood passion for stationery. One thing led to another, and before I knew it, I was the proud owner of pocketnotebooks.co.uk, now nerosnotes.co.uk

1857

While I was diving into stationery rabbit-holes, I discovered podcasts. I got talking with TJ Cosgrove who has a healthy obsession with pencils. Somehow or other, we got to recording and releasing our talks weekly. Tonight, we will be recording episode 84.

Variety

Each of the above gives me something. Not always financial reward.

I’ll give some background on each one over the coming weeks.

Multiple businesses / projects is one way of keeping things interesting when #goingsolo.

Membership

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Members 35. Wild East 7. Food.

I wasn’t always in the Irish Pub. Honest.

It’s a terrible oversimplification, but Central Europe and I expanded our food horizons together.

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Living the Dream -60. A glimpse of England

As this post publishes, I’ll have had a glimpse of England for five days. I’ll be spending the day in Southern England, before flying home on Saturday.

As I write this, in Cyprus, it’s 30+ degrees, with the sun cracking the flags. On Sunday night, there will be rain on my hotel window, which will be firmly closed against the chilly night air. I’m curious how I’ll feel.

Itinerary

The trip is part business, part pleasure. I’m starting in the north of England, doing anti-money laundering work, before heading down to Nero’s Notes HQ and visiting my Mum. Nero’s is in a new office, that I have never seen, so I’m looking forward to that. As ever, I hope to squeeze in a round of golf back at my previous club with old friends.

Packing

What to pack? I’m challenged. Business wear? Layers? Problems that I do not face here. Trying to account for the vagaries of English weather, for a week, with only a carry-on is a forgotten art for me.

Worries

Assuming that I manage to pack and board the flight, what am I worried about?

1. Driving. I’ve hired a manual car, despite having driven an automatic for years. I must have been being thrifty when I booked it. Transmissions apart, I’m nervous of driving in the rain, in the traffic. I haven’t forgotten the nightmare of UK travel. After a five hour flight, I have a four hour drive to a place I have never been. Joy.
2. People. On trips, I find myself in constant demand. From first thing in the morning, until I head for bed, I’m with other people. That’s great, but its exhausting. I miss “quiet time”. When did I get so old?
3. Home. While I’m swanning about England, Margaret will be juggling working and looking after Spice, on her own. Doubtless me being around will mean the place stays much cleaner, but where I enjoy solitude, Mags thrives in company.

Difference

I daresay that all will be well, and I may even find cooler temperatures and a bit of rain refreshing.

I’m looking forward to seeing everybody, and to, “difference”. They say that a change is as good as a rest, so I’m looking forward to a glimpse of England.

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Going Solo. 9. Learning the Ropes

By definition, learning the ropes will be dependent on what you are doing. What I am trying to get at though, is the difference between a hobby and a business.

Administration

If you are anything like me, then you’re passionate about what you want to do, but less passionate about the stuff that you have to do around it – the dreaded administration.

Like many things, it’s easy, if you know how. If you don’t, relax. We’ll get through it.

Entities

Do you need a company? Can you be a sole trader? Which do you want to be?

Much depends on your location; countries have different laws. My advice is that ultimately, you want your hustle to be in a company. A company is an entity of its own. This has huge advantages in terms of liability and in terms of saleability. However, forming a company has a cost, and you know how I feel about cost. If you have revenues or customers already in place, then I recommend that you form a company. Certainly in the UK and the EU this is not a complicated or costly process.

However, it may be that you want to leave company formation until you have some revenues coming in.

Bank Account

Sounds obvious, but use a separate bank account. Wherever possible, use this bank account for all expenses. If a customer wants to pay cash, great. Take that cash and deposit it into the bank. Trust me, you’ll thank me when it comes to working out your accounts.

Management Accounts

In Post VII, you drew up a budget. In itself, that is a useful exercise. However, charting progress against that budget gives you real control of the business. The good news, is that this is really simple.
At the most basic level, you can insert columns into a copy of your budget file – and input the actual numbers. If you budgeted $30 for telecoms, and your bill comes to $25, you enter that in the column adjacent. If you really want to show off, you can have a column that takes one figure from the other. There’s no reason that you can’t run your numbers like this on a spreadsheet, but you will need to be disciplined and have a good attention to detail.

Automated Accounts

My attention to detail is abso…oh look! A squirrel.

You see my problem.

For this reason, I automate as much of my accounts as possible. I use Xero, and love it, but I imagine that Sage and Freshbooks are just as good. For each business, I link my bank and Paypal accounts to Xero, so that transactions are automatically downloaded. My webshop is also linked, so sales download too.

Now – in theory, I could integrate my budgeting process with Xero too, and I daresay that I will, one day. I just haven’t got to it yet. For the moment, my management accounts categories match my budget categories, so its easy for me to see how I’m doing in individual categories.
While writing this post, I reconciled my accounts on a mobile phone. Xero learns and so when it saw a bank payment to Google Apps, it suggested to me that this was probably my subscription to Google for email. I agreed, and it entered the expense into the ledger. Done. I love it.

Returns

Management accounts help run the business. Xero will produce the data that you need to submit a return to most authorities. In short, you can do it all yourself.

However, if you haven’t made submissions before, it makes sense to get help here. Most accountants are happy to look over output from your digital bookkeeper and advise you. There’s a fee of course, but as they charge by the hour and you have done much of the time-consuming work, this fee need not be large. Agree in advance.

Seek Help

This post could run to pages and pages. As I wrote it, I realised how much there is to administration. (Ideas for some more posts!) Look. EVERY business person has been where you are now. If you’re not sure about accounts or company admin, ask someone. Ask me. Grab me on Twitter, DMs are open. I’ll help if I can.

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Members 34. Wild East 6. Irish Pubs

Irish pubs were central to my experience of the “Wild East” as I term Central Europe of the 1990s. Both in Budapest and Prague, I had a default pub.
In the early days, these pubs were welcome havens in cities that felt incredibly foreign.

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Living the Dream – 59. Sabbatical

“A sabbatical. We’ll try it for nine months.”

That was the original agreement. Margaret’s employer had a policy allowing her to take up to 9 months as a career break. Putting an end date on our adventure made it much easier for Margaret to acquiesce.

Sabbatical

Then, her employer made her redundant, and the artificial time limit was no longer there. Nevertheless, we both understood that we were burning no bridges and that the move to Cyprus was not definitive. It was a sabbatical.

Evolution

Margaret’s position then became, “we’ll stay awhile, until we can sell the house.” More recently, it has become, “we won’t grow old here. We won’t stay for ever.” Subtle changes; evolution not revolution, as it were. My position, much to many people’s frustration, is, and always was, “I dunno. Let’s see.”

In theory, we would have headed home last month, before the summer really hit. I’m delighted that we’re still here. Particularly after the start that we had, when I genuinely feared that we would choose to return to England sooner even than nine months.

Signals

We’re discussing whether to take the next Greek language course in the autumn and we have made plans for New Year. There has been no specific discussion, we’ve simply moved on.

Is this home now?

Posed as a simple question, the answer is more complex. What is home?

Home

Increasingly, soppy though it may sound, home, for me, is where Margaret is. I’m happy here, I was happy in England. In the Members posts of this site, I am writing about my time in Central Europe. I was happy there too.

Statistically, two thirds of British people who retire abroad, return to the UK. Grandchildren and health care being the two elements most often cited as reasons to return.

Mags and I have no kids and touch wood, are in good health for the time being. Part of the rationale of moving here was to do so while relatively young, and enjoy a new life.

The Future

Might we move back to the UK? Or move to another “foreign” country? Might we stay here?

Yes, to all of the above.

We are lucky enough to be able to keep our options open, and that’s what we will do.

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Going Solo. 8. Time & Space

Last week, I covered money and budgets. Time and Space are equally as important, if not more so.

Time

We hit “Time” here, in post 4. I find that time runs away from me very easily. I have also discovered that all time is not created equal. One hour in the morning is worth several in the afternoon for me. I have more energy and enthusiasm early. Come evening-time, there are some tasks that I just can’t do. Writing for example. It may be that I could retrain myself, but it’s certainly easier to lean into my natural inclinations. If I have a lot to do, I’ll go to be bed earlier and get up earlier. Your mileage my differ.

Whatever decisions that you have made about time, will have an impact on space. Obviously, much will depend on the type of endeavour that you are pursuing, but in general, where are you going to work?

Space

At home? A coffee shop? A shared workspace? If you have been reading along, you know that I recommend not spending a cent unless absolutely necessary. However, be realistic. If your personal circumstances make working at home impossible, then you need to make a plan about where you can work effectively. If that means paying a licence fee for a shared workspace, then budget for it.

Routine

Once you have decided on where and when you will be working, get to your notebook and setup a page “Normal Routine.” All we’re doing here is some time-blocking. It’s not rocket science. Simply, if you have decided that you need 10 hours a week to make the project work, then let’s see where those 10 hours are. Once you have set them, you need to commit to them. Life will get in the way, and not every week will be “Normal”. That’s fine, it happens to us all. But to adjust a plan, you first need to have a plan.

I time block every week, either on Sunday afternoon or Monday morning. I fill in my scheduled appointments, then my ‘must-dos’ for the coming week. This gives me an idea of the shape of my days, and the key things that I am going to achieve.

Next week

We have the numbers, the time and space, next week – “Learning the Ropes”.

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Members 33. Wild East 5. Preconceptions

In the novel, (will I ever finish the bloody thing?), Sean arrives in Budapest, barely knowing where it is. That is written from experience.

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Living the Dream – 58. Summer Living

Summer living is what we came to Cyprus for. Almost endless sunshine, blue skies and warm weather.

Heat

Having lived here before, I had warned Mags that the height of summer can be uncomfortable. Therefore, we both awaited July and August with a degree of trepidation. The season, has thus far, been mild. There have been some blazing hot, humid days, but not as many as we might expect.

When the heat is on, we have adapted our routines. We rise early, and retire late. We either work or golf in the morning and then rest in the heat of the afternoon. That’s fine, until I look at the impact on my productivity.

Golf

We return from the course between 2 and 3 in the afternoon. I restock the water bottles, get the washing machine working and then collapse, either on a chair or in bed. By the time that I’m functioning again, its dinner and/or social time.

I have found myself playing “social” golf, three times a week – with some competitions on top. That means three or four days per seven, I’m not getting to my businesses or my other projects. That’s too much. I either have to find a way for golf not to wipe out an entire day, or play less. Dang it.

Working

If I am not off to the golf course, then after a swim, I get down to the office bright and early to get some work done. The mornings are highly productive. My energy levels have always been best at the start of the day, and the availability of a home-office means that I can get going very quickly and go straight through to around 1pm. I have another swim, a bite to eat and then a nap.

Epiphany

Writing this post, my inner-voice (Siegfried) has been screaming, “play golf in the afternoon, muppet!” Siegfried has a point.

Most of our playing partners are retired, and play in the mornings. Afternoon golf will likely be just the two of us – from a buggy, but even if I reclaimed one weekday morning, that’s a 50% increase of prime productivity time.

There – even if nobody reads this post, the writing of it has helped me make an improvement to summer living.

Appetite

A welcome impact of the heat is that I am rarely hungry during daylight hours. That’s good for calorie control. Unfortunately, there are few pleasures better than a cold beer on a warm night, and that is definitely not good for calorie control!

Conclusion

Summer living is awesome. I know that any challenges are ones that I am very lucky to have – and now, if I start moving some golf into the afternoon, then I can claim a huge positive impact of writing this blog.

Thank you.

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