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angelThe Christmas Angel a short story by Simon Frost

Earlier this year, I read a short piece online about a person who had come across a letter tucked into a man’s jacket that they had bought at a French vide grenier (or a car boot sale as it is known in England). This gave me the idea for this story, however, I wished to give it a festive twist. 

I hope that you enjoy the story. 


“Everyone has a good book inside them”

It is a familiar quote and a thought that drives many a budding writer.  A harsh critic once quipped by adding “…and that is where it should stay” – and no doubt we can all think of many a title that deserves that fate as we browse online or in a bookshop.



Let’s talk about personalisation

We all like to think we’re special, don’t we? 

As consumers, we generally respond positively when businesses know intuitively what we are looking to buy (think Amazon, Spotify – even Coca Cola with its ‘name’ bottles) and tailor our searches accordingly.

It’s called personalisation.

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A cheesy insight into new Brittany fromagerie

The legendary French President and wartime leader Charles de Gaulle once asked, “How can anyone govern a nation that has two hundred and forty-six different kinds of cheese?”

Cheese is certainly one of France’s most famous foods and since moving here I confess to eating more of the delicious fromage.  A Google search suggests in fact that there are more than 1,000 different types of French cheese; however, whatever the exact figure is, cheese is synonymous with France and in September I had the chance to visit a recently opened fromagerie in Vitré, Brittany.

La Belle Fromagerie is a start-up business which started trading earlier this year and is owned by David Karoutchi. David is passionate about cheese… and decided to set up La Belle Fromagerie after a previous career working in communications.

La Belle Fromagerie is unique. It is the only business of its kind in Europe awarded a special label, guaranteeing that the products are of high quality. But that’s not all. David knows all of his suppliers and producers of the artisanal cheeses. Indeed, I understand that David visits his suppliers from time-to-time giving him a good insight into the process that is used and the animals who supply the milk.

The shop has an international range, selling not only French cheese but Italian, British, Spanish and Belgian labels. Whilst visiting I bought a goat’s cheese – Anneau du Vercours Chèvre; a soft, creamy texture and not too strong in flavour. Miam-miam! The cheese is produced near to David’s family so clearly he has a lot of knowledge about this specific cheese.

If you are unfortunate not to live in beautiful Brittany you can order via the Internet – so I have included some details below.

Good luck David with your venture – and thank you to JCE Vitré for your kind invitation to join you on the visit.

La Belle Fromagerie, Zone artisanale du Piquet Ouest, Etrelles.
06 60 31 71 26, contact@labellefromagerie.com, Facebook: La Belle Fromagerie.

What are the four last letters of NETWORK?

OK – that question was not difficult… the last four words are of course W-O-R-K.

Recently I pulled off the shelf a book which I bought many years ago – probably nearly 20 – written by Nigel Risner.  The book is called “You Had Me at Hello” and it gives plenty of practical tips for better networking. I like the title so decided to re-read a few pages.

I’ve always enjoyed and appreciated the benefit of networking, attending many different events, conferences, exhibitions and functions over the years. I enjoy meeting new people, listening to people from different backgrounds and experience and learning about new ideas. Over the years it has taught me about the importance of continually keeping an open mind in order to discover new ways of doing things – and it has opened the door to new opportunities.

I have also been very aware that networking does involve work… there is not a magic trick to avoid it, and networking involves a range of skills, the most important of which is arguably listening.

Even though I have lived in France since 2014 I am always seeking new networking opportunities and it is fair to say that it is one of the most enjoyable and satisfying aspects of my professional life. Profitable too – because it has generated new leads, new clients and introduced me to all kinds of different types of business.

Another important part of networking is also giving. I have never believed that the primary motivation in networking is about pure personal gain, it should be about giving your time, energy, passion and support to people and businesses. This in itself is hugely beneficial to our personal and professional development and incredibly rewarding in our lives.

I have been working full-time for more than 33 years now; as an employee, a CEO and now self-employed running my own business in France. It’s been quite an adventure to date, working in a range of sectors and size of businesses, meeting all manner of people, nationalities, seniority and experience…. And much of it achieved as a result of networking.

With the summer almost over, it’s time to start thinking about making the most of what the autumn and winter has to offer.

I wish you luck with your networking. Simon

Helping young entrepreneurs

The summer has started extremely busy – and earlier this month I travelled up to Saint-Lô for an event with Groupe FIM. The objective was to be part of a “jury”, different business people who give up their time voluntarily to help students studying and working on the various courses which Groupe FIM offers.

In addition to my teaching, I have participated in several of these juries and it is a satisfying task, listening to the students in both English and French talk about their experiences working in their chosen business.

Over the years I have been fortunate to get involved in a number of these business support networks; young enterprise (working with school age children up to sixth form level), with the Chamber of Commerce and now Groupe FIM which is part of the CCI network.

If you wish to find out more about Groupe FIM have a look at their website.

Enjoy the summer

Those who wish to sing always find a song

- Swedish proverb

Earlier this year my wife and I joined a community choir.

It’s fair to say that I have never considered myself as someone who could sing; my only previous public “performances” restricted to the odd karaoke. I recall attempting a rendition of Elton John’s Your Song  at an after dinner party in Melton Mowbray, singing with a colleague Three Lions (Football’s Coming Home) to a librarian’s conference (don’t ask) and other probably very forgettable experiences….

However in the spring Anne and I decided to participate in a newly formed community choir in a nearby village; it was an opportunity to do something different, have some fun and practice our vocal chords.

We are a small group, mostly English (currently) and some French. We sing a mix of French and English songs – providing a valuable opportunity to test our French pronunciation!

It is certainly fun. On 21st June our group took part in the local village’s celebration of La Fête de la Musique held every mid-summer in France and throughout Europe.  For 25 minutes or so we performed various songs, ranging from Champs-Elysees to Mamma Mia, Stand by Me and Dancing in the Street.  There was polite applause at the end – hopefully everyone enjoyed our premier outing and it will be one of many in the future.

Singing is proving to be a release from our daily work and a chance to learn something new, meet new people and practice our French. Our tutor Verena is incredibly patient and an inspirational singer; I especially appreciate that we do not take ourselves too seriously to ensure that the whole experience is as inclusive as possible.

I have always believed that everyone has “one good book” in them – and I remain determined to write mine. Now maybe I can add that everyone has a song that they can sing….

Have a good summer.

The Portsmouth Guildhall Renaissance Project

Since 2010 I have been involved in the Portsmouth Guildhall. In 2011 a charity was set up to manage the facilities and expand its operations – the Portsmouth Cultural Trust - and this year it was renamed the Guildhall Trust.

Although now living in France, I continue to work with the team led by Andy Grays, CEO and I am delighted to endorse a new multi-million project to renovate and improve the facilities in the beautiful building.

The Portsmouth Guildhall is one of the city's most loved buildings and is about to embark on an ambitious project to renovate this historic landmark.

They will be raising £10 million to improve and expand the facilities, the customer experience and ensure that this important part of Portsmouth's heritage is fit for the future.

If you are a local business, you can help too by joining the Guildhall Renaissance Founders Club.

Link for more information: https://portsmouthguildhall.org.uk/about-guildhall/about-us/guildhall-renaissance/

April – expectation and excitement for the spring and summer

April is one of my favourite months of the year.

In the garden, although the nights can still be cold the warmth during the day time is helping to germinate the plants. This year, the daffodils continue to provide a vibrant dash of yellow and the tulips are truly resplendent, a rich mix of colours – reds, oranges, purples and white.

The spring blossom has also been superb this year.

Recently we paid a visit to the Parc Botanique de Haute-Bretagne. In April the garden held a special day to celebrate the cherry blossom which is called hanami in Japanese.  Hanami is the ancient tradition appreciating the blooming of cherry blossoms (sakura) in parks and throughout the countryside in Japan.

The Japanese gardens were a superb display of an Asian paradise with the red acers being particularly delightful. We enjoyed walking in the extensive grounds and even listened to a lovely performance by a Japanese musician.

So far, the weather in April has been exceptionally warm – perhaps an indication of very hot summer? We shall see….

Who needs paper in a digital world?

I love digital. Computers and the internet have transformed our lives; in ways that even 10 or 20 years ago would have seemed impossible.

However, I love paper too. Recycled paper preferably of course… and earlier this month I visited the Frogmore Paper Mill in Hertfordshire, England and discovered the birthplace of paper’s industrial revolution. Even though I work in digital marketing, paper continues to have an important role in communicating ideas – and I believe it will continue to have its place even in a world dominated by Artificial Intelligence and other forms of new technology.

Papermaking by hand commenced at Frogmore in 1774 followed by the arrival of the world's first mechanised paper machine in 1803. Over the next century the area became a centre for papermaking with six mills located close by and largely owned by the legendary firm John Dickinson & Co., producing thousands of tonnes of stationery, envelopes and other paper items. I lived in Hertfordshire in the 70s until the late 80s and remember the pride that many local people felt for the famous stationery “Made by Dickinsons”, a major employer throughout the 20th century.   

Living now in France, I am always fascinated by Anglo-French connections and the world’s first paper machine was actually French in design and installed by a British engineer, Bryan Donkin. Louis Nicholas Robert created the idea for such a machine at the time of the French Revolution; however it required English ingenuity to bring it to fruition. The Original Fourdrinier Paper Machine was up and running, and within a few years transformed the manufacture of paper, providing huge opportunities for improving communication.

The museum contains many interesting artefacts and information about this machine and many other aspects of paper making, printing and the huge influence that paper has had on our lives. When I was young, I dreamt of becoming a journalist in the days before digital presses and found the historic letterpress printing equipment fascinating.

Today Frogmore continues to be a working paper mill – and it was encouraging to see that other enterprises use it as a base for their operations in addition to the museum, café and educational activities. It is well worth a visit and is a timely remainder of the power of paper even in our digital world.

If you would like to discuss how your business could benefit from the creation of content for marketing – whether for digital or print – please get in touch.
- Simon   

What makes Twitter so great?

Did you take part in Facebook’s Ten Year Challenge?

I didn’t – however it made me think about how I have used social media over the past decade.

Recently I realised that I joined Twitter in February 2008 – and also created a Facebook account later that same year.  I have used LinkedIn for even longer – probably since 2006.

These sites were not my first use of social networking. Who remembers Friends Reunited? It was a network of sites that aimed to reconnect former school friends and arguably was the very first social network, launched in 2000.   Friends Reunited was very different in one respect to the current social media sites: you had to pay a fee. Facebook’s business model is obviously very different, securing billions of dollars through advertising on the back of content created by the 2.27 billion regular users. Incidentally, if you had to pay a subscription for Facebook though, would you use it? An interesting question… Facebook of course removed Friends Reunited’s market enabling millions of people to rediscover old school friends, resulting in the site closing in 2016.

Back to Twitter. I like its immediacy, use of humour and the image quality. And of course, it is the birthplace of the humble hashtag which has revolutionised marketing campaigns and more.

It is true that I do not tweet that much; it is interesting though to discover what is happening in the world through its lens. What was my very first tweet? I downloaded my ‘archive’ on Twitter but unfortunately my 140 characters have been lost to posterity….  I did however manage to go back as far as 2011. Tweets seemed to have been an interesting mix of references to football (it must have been a good year for Colchester, my team), work/conferences, France, cats and the general state of the world….

Since 2014 I am now using Twitter to reflect the work of my marketing business @hiboucomm; Twitter is nothing if not a place for encouraging creativity and ideas.

Is Twitter an effective way of promoting a company brand? I would say definitely yes for most businesses. There are 330 million monthly active users across the world which represents a huge potential reach; Twitter is an effective way of increasing your profile, monitoring competitors and engaging with customers.

If you would like to discuss how your business can benefit from the huge opportunities offered by social media, please feel free to get in touch.

- Simon   

“I have no special talent, I am only passionately curious.”

Albert Einstein who provided this quotation clearly was an exceptionally talented individual…and no doubt was passionately curious, too. 

Every one of us possesses skills and talents; sometimes these are self-evident or maybe they need to be encouraged and developed in order that we can reach our full potential, demonstrating our true selves to family, friends and colleagues.

During my career, I have always been a believer – indeed, a passionate enthusiast – of lifelong learning and the concept of continuing professional development. Education of course is not the sole determinant of enabling us to live healthy, fulfilling and successful lives; however we may choose to define that. It is true that from time-to-time hard work needs to be accompanied by a measure of luck whether as a result of good timing or fortune.

Whatever age we may be though, we are never too old to learn. A few years ago I attended a Summer School at the University of Caen, a residential programme to learn French. It was tough; speaking French from breakfast through to dinner. In my class there was a student in their early 90s. This old gentleman was quite an inspiration to all of us – and he probably could conjugate his verbs better than mine!

One of the many things that I have learnt over the years has been to be curious; to explore new ideas, to listen to opposing viewpoints respectively; to meet new people and to seek to understand how things can be improved for the better. I love the diversity of business which is why I enjoy working with so many different enterprises from a wide range of sectors.

Without any shadow of doubt, the pace of change in our society and our business lives is getting faster and faster. New technology – the increasing importance of AI, proliferation of apps, the ease and speed of communication – poses incredible challenges and opportunities.

That is why I am always seeking new opportunities to learn and fine-tune my skills. In 2018 I successfully completed a diploma in SEO and digital marketing to deepen my understanding of this area that I work in every day; after all, I first obtained my marketing qualification in 1996 and the world is a very different place! This year I am about to embark on a course relating to advanced copywriting. 2020: who knows?

During the past 12 months I have also started teaching French students marketing, in English for Groupe FIM’s International Marketing course in Saint Lô. This has been a great opportunity to share my experience, knowledge and expertise with younger people who are starting out in their business careers.

In 2019 I certainly intend to keep being curious.

Have a great year everyone - Simon   

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Santa’s Gift

The gusty, damp and mild December weather was making it difficult for Jonathan to get into the festive spirit, however Christmas was less than a week away and the 35-year old London solicitor had presents to buy. His list was long and the last Christmas online delivery dates had already been missed. There was no doubt about it; a trip to the shops was a necessity….

Aside from food shopping and other essentials, Jonathan rarely shopped but he did enjoy browsing in the capital’s many book and music shops. One of his priorities that afternoon was to buy a small gift – a second hand book, to be precise – for his brother and sister-in-law’s Christmas Eve party; a Secret Santa present. Jessica and Edward loved parties and if the truth be told, they were pretty good hosts. There would be a good mix of people, delicious food that most decent chefs would be proud of and a choice of wine which any sommelier would put their name to. In short, it would be a great Christmas party.

Jonathan headed down the Pembridge Road towards The Book and Comic Exchange in Notting Hill and within a few minutes he was inside the popular and eclectic bookstore, knowing exactly where he wanted to start his search. In his profession, Jonathan was well respected for his ability to get quickly to the heart of any matter in defending the interests of his commercial clients.  In a shop filled with so many different titles, this was a useful skill in locating just what he was looking for. Immediately alongside him he noticed a 30-something young woman, very attractive he thought to himself, giving her a gentle smile which was immediately reciprocated.

After a few minutes, Jonathan’s eye spotted a book that evoked childhood memories although it was not the Christmas gift he had been seeking: it was Jane Austen’s classic novel, Mansfield Park.  The novel had been a present from his late grandmother, but sadly lost during a house move many years previously; certainly inadvertently, ending up in a local charity shop? However, his curiosity got the better of him; the spine and colours seemed strangely familiar. He reached to the shelf to retrieve the book and to check which edition it was – could it be the one he had been searching for all these years?  At that moment, Emma also reached out for the novel. The pair laughed as both their hands touched, albeit briefly.

“Sorry – be my guest,” Jonathan said, disappointed not to have had the opportunity to buy the novel, instead gallantly giving Emma the chance to do so. Emma smiled, said thank you and as she turned to head for the cash till added, “I really appreciate it”. 

Christmas Eve. London had seen its first cold snap since the previous winter. There was no snow, although at least the weather was crisp and reassuringly seasonal, with the pavements glistening under the street lights as Jonathan walked the short distance to Edward and Jessica’s home.  Jonathan knocked firmly on the front door, glimpsing through the half closed curtains: the party was already in full throng.

“Great to see you Jonathan,” Edward said, warmly embracing his brother and ushering him into the hallway of their beautifully decorated Edwardian terrace property. “Come along old boy. You need a drink in your hand… and there’s someone I want you to meet”, he continued with a twinkle in his eye.

Jonathan followed his older brother into the front lounge, bedecked with tasteful decorations themed in blues, whites and golds.  Taking Jonathan to the corner of the room where Emma is chatting with Jessica, Edward introduces them to each other, Jessica discreetly pausing their conversation to enable Jonathan to join them.

“Jonathan, I’d like to introduce you to Emma who works with Jessica at JD & Co accountants. Did you know that Jess had recently moved firms? She loves her new job, don’t you darling?”

“No I didn’t – well done Jessica. How long have you been working with Jessica, Emma? My senior partner knows the MD pretty well,” Jonathan says, Emma listening attentively.

“Guys, I need to prepare some more Christmas punch – do you both want a glass?” Jessica interrupts before her and Edward leave to enable the pair to continue their conversation alone. During the next couple of hours, Emma and Jonathan chat happily together, the discussion quickly moving away from business to interests and hobbies, resulting in their discovery of a mutual love of contemporary dance.

Just before the clock struck 11, Jessica and Edward return to the lounge, Edward dutifully carrying a large tray of champagne glasses. “It’s time for the Secret Santa!” Jessica announces, an exchange of gifts that is a long standing tradition in the Fitzgerald household, the only rule being that the gift should be a second hand book in good condition.

The family and friends gathered around the 7ft Christmas tree, the white lights perfectly arranged, interspersed with tasteful and elegant decorations.  

After a few minutes, it was Jonathan’s turn to open his gift, the present carefully wrapped and complete with a ribbon and tag: “From Santa, Merry Christmas”. He opens it to reveal a well-loved 1930s edition of Mansfield Park; Turning to the inside cover he sees it is inscribed with a message: “To Jonathan, I hope you will treasure this for many years to come. Happy Christmas, grandson. Love Grandma x.”  

At last the book had been reunited with its overjoyed owner.

Why I love November

I like November.

November has the reputation of being rather dull compared to the other months of the year. Spring and summer have plenty of fans, perhaps because spring can feel so vibrant after a long winter and the hot sunny days in July and August (we hope) are perfect for relaxing outdoors. People similarly talk wistfully about the mellow months of September and early October, life is at a slower pace but the days are still filled with warm sunshine and are relatively long. Then there is December of course, with the approach of Christmas as thoughts turn to the holiday season and the New Year. The shops are lit brightly and there is a party atmosphere around us.  But what can we say positively about November?

I believe that there are many reasons to celebrate this month. Here is just my personal selection.

  • You get to appreciate two seasons in one month. This year, I was fortunate to still be wearing shorts and t-shirts well into late October. Then November started fine – but of late it has been bitterly cold with a sprinkling of snow. The garden had considerable colour and vitality in early November…. now it is beginning its winter hibernation. For me, these are all reasons to love this month; nature is signalling that the year is almost over. The trees are shedding their leaves and the landscape has adopted a more sombre outlook. It is a necessary step in the cycle of life.
  • For people in business, it’s certainly a month to get things done. If you are in the retail sector, for example, it can be especially busy and profitable in the run up to Christmas and the New Year. The shops are busy – and the online tills are ringing. For me, it is a month when I sit down with clients and draw on all my creative juices, to start planning for the year ahead; reviewing what has worked well and discuss what can be done even better. Whatever business you are in, November can be incredibly productive.
  • Away from work, it is a time to cosy up in front of the fire and reflect. Many of us have particularly busy lives, so much so that we scarcely find time to read a book, listen to our favourite music or do the things that we enjoy. Walking in the countryside, attempting to complete the crossword or watching our favourite television programmes. We have a decent sized garden, so the spring and summer can be very busy as I sow, plant, weed and generally keep it tidy. November though is a chance to think about what is important to me and maybe consider new projects, ideas or simply things that can be done differently to improve the work that I do.

So I am a great enthusiast for November. It is the month that I graduated from university back in 1986, a beautiful day spent with family and my fellow students. Indeed, this blog was partly inspired by viewing lots of posts on LinkedIn of students at graduation ceremonies. That day was the culmination of three years’ hard work and I still believe helped set me up for my future career.

Three cheers for November!

How to know your customer

One of the things I learnt quickly in business in the mid-80s was the importance of really getting to know my customers. These customers could be people looking to buy services or products from the business or alternatively colleagues working in the same business. In both cases, it was crucial to develop a clear understanding of who they were, what they needed and the benefits to them as a purchaser.

Today even with the considerable power and reach of the internet and online marketing, knowing your customer remains critically important. Many of us will have fantastic business ideas from time-to-time, however unless we have a clear picture of our target market our approach will lack focus and prove ineffective.  For example, I know of a company which spent 18 months developing a product yet struggled to make the impact it needed because it did not really know who its target customer market was – wasting time and money as a result.

So I thought I would share with you a few of the things that I find useful – helping you to build a strong brand and online presence.

  1. Who are they? Create a customer profile. Start with simple things like: what age range do they fit into? 25-44? 45 – 64? Are they mostly female or male? Where do they live…. Are they urban/metropolitan types or live in rural areas/countryside?
  2. Where can you reach them? This is about understanding where you can reach your market; in print or mostly likely online. In the past, which newspaper someone read was a good indicator, but nowadays we need to be clever at understanding how they use social media (which most people do – but not all!). For example, do they prefer Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram or Twitter?  
  3. How do they like to be communicated with?  Most businesses will require a strategy which includes a number of different communication tools: social media posts, emails, adverts, flyers, press releases…. Therefore think carefully about the most effective communication method including length of the article, style of language etc.
  4. What is their problem you are going to solve? People will decide to buy your product or service because it fulfils a need or want – and solves a “problem” they have.  This will apply regardless of the sector you are in. However, often businesses will talk happily about the product features without addressing the central issue: how will it benefit their client. Will it save them money… time…. improve the quality of their lives… provide fun, entertainment or a new leisure interest?

These are only four examples; there are many other things you can do to get to know your customer. By continually questioning, talking to people and researching it is possible to keep up to date with the competition and changing consumer habits: change is a constant!

If you would like to discuss further, please feel free to contact me.

Simon Frost is a copywriter, marketing specialist and business owner of Hibou Communication.
Contact: simon@hiboucommunication.com

Publishing content that your target clients will want to read

For any business, having a website and a social media presence where they can regularly publish good quality, relevant and informative articles is incredibly powerful. And it is one of the most cost effective forms of advertising that you can have.
To achieve that however, it is crucial for any business to understand first and foremost who they are trying to reach – their target market.  Marketers call this ‘Target Audience Analysis’…. or more simply ‘knowing your customer’ because once this has been achieved, it is possible to create copy and content that people will read, share with others online and help to build your brand profile.
So here are four concise tips to help you get to know your market, build customer relationships and ultimately achieve sales.

  1. Be clear in your mind who your ideal customer is. Having a general idea is not enough! Let’s use a few basic examples:  How old are they? Are they mostly male or female? What they do for a living? What social media accounts do they use…Facebook, Instagram? Where do they shop?  It doesn’t mean that all your clients will be like this but by profiling in depth (this is often referred to as ‘Target Personas’) it will make it easier to write content that is relevant to this market.
  2. Focus on the audiences that will be interested in your product or service.  This means publishing content – blogs, articles, social media posts, e-newsletters etc. – that your ideal customer will want to read – and do not worry about the rest! You should be seeking to answer their questions, solve their problems and provide your customer with a product or service which they will wish to buy.
  3. Find out where your ideal customer spends their time and money.  Taking social media as an example, there is literally no point in you investing your time, energy and hard-earned cash on a paid Twitter ad campaign if your ideal customer does not use twitter or only sends the occasional tweet.  Instead, if they prefer Facebook, or Instagram, design campaigns which will reach your clients via these accounts.
  4. Review what works and what doesn’t.  Facebook Insights is a good example of a simple but effective tool for measuring how people respond to your content. There is a huge amount of data on the site – and it is free to access. Why not take a look?

We all want people to enjoy, read and share the content we publish. By getting to know our target customers this will inform what we write, help to build our brand profile, increase enquiries for our product or service and ultimately result in a better sales performance.

Why is content planning important?

It is easy to get daunted by the sheer mass of information that we are faced with these days. News updates pinging on our mobiles, Facebook posts, emails of course and browsing websites on our computers or tablets.  The exponential growth in content on the web is huge and is likely to increase in the future.

If you own a business or you are looking to start up one, you will be aware of the crucial importance of having a professional online presence. However, once the website has been created and the logo designed – how do you navigate your way through the maze of competition to establish an online presence that stands out – and will ultimately grow your business?

Preparing a Content Plan is the start. An important one too, as it helps to provide you with an outline and an identity to your business. So below are a few tips on good content planning – whatever the industry or sector you are working in.

  1. Be clear as to your target audience. Marketers use this as part of their market segmentation work as it enables you to understand who are your potential clients and group them together according to their shared characteristics, including age, sex, demographics etc.  By identifying your target audience, you will be able to write content which will appeal to this market and in a language they will understand.
  2. Write in a consistent style. The words that you use form part of the brand that you are seeking to communicate and it is necessary to write with clarity so that the message is easy to understand.
  3. Think SEO. SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation and is how you will build an online presence by making your website visible to others. SEO warrants a whole blog – or blogs! – in itself, but at its most basic concept it is a way of considering carefully the keywords that you use in your content so that your website grows “organically”. The end result will be that your site will appear higher up the google rankings.

Content planning may sound dull – although it is actually quite fun! Honestly. In any line of work, there are always plenty of things to write about. Perhaps it is a short profile about yourself and what you are passionate about; the launch of a new product; or a testimonial from a client that your business may have received.  The sky’s the limit.

Establishing a sound online presence will take time – but is worth it.

If you would like some ideas on how to create some great content themes for your business, please get in touch.

For the love of a short story

I love short stories. Some of the world’s best and most celebrated authors – Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Hardy, Ian McEwan and Doris Lessing – excelled at writing short stories as well as novels. Hemingway’s First Forty-Nine Stories is widely and rightly considered to be a classic.

After a period of being regarded as the inferior child to the novel, short stories are now back in business and increasingly popular, providing the platform for new and younger writers. Indeed, in 2017 there were more than 690,000 short stories and anthologies sold in the UK, netting their publishers and authors a cool £5.88 million. So they are profitable, too. It’s not just e-books that are leading this counter-revolution as printed books are retaining their slice of the market.

Short stories are a great read for many reasons. They are perfect as bedtime material, when you can enjoy a good book from start to finish. They are similarly ideal for trying out the literary style of authors that you’ve never come across before; and perhaps as a way of taking a break from a novel that you are currently reading.

It is fair to say that I have also tried my hand at writing short stories. I was inspired to write ten years ago when I attended a Writing Weekend with the great Cornish poet D M Thomas and since then have penned around a dozen or so. Many of which I set in St Ives, Cornwall whilst others have been based on a range of different themes and places; maybe one day I will have them published.

There is definitely a sense of accomplishment in writing, as well as reading, a short story; it appeals I guess to our desire to get to the heart of a good story quickly and through to the ending, discovering the fate of the principal characters.

How long should a short story be? The definition is pretty wide; everything from around 1,500 to 30,000 words. I have also written a few micro- stories, around 300 words for my blogs and they can be great fun to have a go at; however, they can be challenging too as brevity is often more difficult to achieve than writing a longer piece of work. And longer short stories are of course sometimes referred to as novellas, which seems to me a great word to use…

My favourite short story? There are many. However I would choose an anthology of short stories that I have had in my collection for possibly 40 years; called Escape! it contains 27 stories written throughout the 20th century. Very much Boy’s Own stuff, but great all the same…. And it remains a treasured piece to this day.

If you have not read a short story recently, why not (re)discover one for yourself?

Is there a future for print news?

I have always loved newspapers and when I was young one of my first ambitions was to become a journalist. Forty years ago when I first started reading a paper as a teenager, the press was a key source of information, vying with television and radio for breaking the latest stories. Newspapers excelled in providing in-depth coverage, great photos, captivating headlines and content which provoked discussion and debate. I enjoyed reading through the papers, either buying a copy from the newsagent or visiting the library to peruse a wide variety of different titles – everything from the Daily Telegraph and Guardian to the Mirror, as well as local and regional newspapers.

However, since the 1970s the world has certainly changed and newspapers which once had huge circulations now generally have much reduced and declining readerships. For example, the Daily Telegraph as recently as 1997 had a circulation of around 1.1 million copies each day; now, it is barely 400,000.

Habits have also changed remarkably on public transport such as trains and buses. When I travelled to London a decade previously, the train carriages would be full of commuters turning the pages of their morning paper or the Evening News for the return journey. Fast forward to the 2010’s and the world had changed; people either spend time on their mobile phones or read a book.

So, is there a future for print news? Or is it purely a digital one as we use our apps to keep up to date with our favourite news providers or catch up through different websites?

Personally I have changed the way in which I do try to keep informed. Even 5 years ago, I would regularly read a local newspaper and probably buy a daily one on most days and generally a Sunday edition too. Now, living in France, I do generally buy a weekly paper but even though you can buy English papers, never do so; instead, I prefer to go online.

I do like to think though that in spite of these significant challenges, there may be a niche for print news in the years to come after all. How could this be achieved?

  • Publish articles which are well researched, informative, generally longer and different to the experience a reader will have online. I do read long form articles online, but if given the choice would still prefer print. People respect specialist knowledge; the Financial Times circulation has remained relatively steady compared to other print media, because readers value the content.
  • Appeal to the niche. Niche magazines are faring particularly well, proving that people will buy publications which give them interesting content. I still do…. Research has shown that people can read paper documents quicker than on screen which helps papers have the edge for a longer-read.
  • Embrace change. The Guardian radically changed its typographical format in 2018 and switched to tabloid size. Time and money was spent understanding how their readers liked to read their favourite paper; others must do the same.

Happy reading!

A picture paints a thousand words

Earlier this month, I visited the Normandy port town of Ouistreham for a business engagement and after my meeting travelled to attend the official launch of a photograph exhibition.

It is certainly no ordinary exhibition.
For a start, it is located on a beach and a particularly special beach, no less; now used by holiday makers to relax and have fun but more than 70 years ago, it was the scene of so much bloodshed during the D-Day landings.

A second aspect which makes it especially interesting is that it is dedicated to HM The Queen, celebrating the meetings she has had throughout the past 60 years with French Presidents.

The exhibition was commissioned by the mayor of Ouistreham Riva-Bella and the photographs are a selection of some of the most interesting taken and published by the iconic French magazine, Paris Match.

As well as the photographs, each enlarged picture includes a description, capturing that special moment in time. It is fascinating to walk along the path and the sandy terrain, admiring the quality of the work and the longevity of the Queen’s reign, which so fascinates my French friends and colleagues as well as her British subjects.

Indeed, you really do not need to read the words, written in both French and English, to understand what the photograph is about and the messages it contains.

They say a picture paints a thousand words and in this case, this is certainly true.

Her Majesty The Queen, Promenade de la Paix de Ouistreham Riva-Bella – Esplanade Lofi . Until 31 August 2018.

Gardening in spring

Spring has been late coming this year. Here in Normandy we have had our fair share of rain since last November and compared with last March and early April, the weather has been colder and very wet.

However, there is never bad or good weather – just weather! And for those of us who spend the majority of our time working indoors snug and warm, there is no excuse for not getting on with some work.

Aside from my marketing business, April is a good time for both planning my garden projects and also getting underway with sowing and planting. I’ve decided to try some new varieties of flowers this year and with luck, the vegetable garden should be full of tasty produce by June and July.

There are definitely things though that I love and try to avoid when it comes to gardening.

On my “Love“ list is planting the tiny seeds and nurturing them over the next few days and weeks to make them healthy plants, ready for potting up and eventually planting outside. I also enjoy weeding (bizarrely enough!), tidying up in the garden and occasionally sitting back and admiring my handiwork!

It’s fair to say however that I don’t especially like mowing or major garden construction projects! They need to be done from time-to-time of course and when it comes to cutting the lawn that is pretty well every week during May, June and July.

What has this got to do with marketing I hear you ask?

Well, in my mind a garden should reflect your personality, the result of your work over often a long period. It requires patience, hard work, learning new skills and perseverance.

Developing and implementing a successful marketing plan can be very much like that. You need to think through carefully your objectives before you start to lay the foundations, be consistent in your approach (like regular weeding and mowing!), don’t be afraid to demonstrate flair and originality (not all your flowers need to be the same colour…) and – perhaps most importantly – keep going, but ensure you stand back and review the results.

Hope you have a great spring.


How long do you spend on a website which is poorly designed – or maybe even has spelling mistakes? Probably not very long, I would suspect. That is why it is so important to think carefully about the content and design of all your communications, online and in print.
Of course, we all make mistakes! It is being human. However, if you wish to be successful in gaining (and indeed retaining) clients to grow a successful business, it is necessary to pay attention to the detail, ensuring that you are presenting a professional image to the world. Below are a few things that you should consider:-

  • Create a clear content strategy and plan. In non-marketing speak, that means a number of things; write copy which will be interesting, relevant and topical for your target audience. Consider the keywords your reader will use to search for your chosen topic. The image will need to be of the appropriate dimensions so that the picture looks clear and fresh; you can check online regarding the right sizing.
  • If you are translating your copy into another language (e.g. from English > French), do so with care. Use online translation services by all means; but do not rely on them. Read the copy with the largest dictionary you can find (which I do!) and try to spot any phrases, which do not look quite right.
  • It is always best to aim to keep the language as simple as possible. If you use Word to write your copy, a useful tool is “Flesch Reading Ease” readability index. This Flesch readability score uses the sentence length (number of words per sentence) and the number of syllables per word, giving you a percentage. This article scores c 64%, which means that most people will understand your copy. However, if the score was, say around 30%, only those with a high level of education may comprehend it. 
  • Think about the content layout. For example, ensure that you use a consistent range and style of fonts, colours and design. Consistency in how your content looks and is another key aspect of branding.
  • Finally, edit your work and do a final proof read before you publish – and if you like, ask a friend or colleague to do this, as it will provide a fresh perspective on your work.  Find an appropriate image, which communicates the subject theme, which is professional and of good quality.

We all like to make a good first impression when we meet people – and your website, your Facebook page or your online brochures will be your opportunity to communicate your brand values and the products and services that your business provides.

If you have any comments, suggestions or additional content marketing tips – please let us know or get in touch.

Social Media IconsHow do I increase my reach on my Facebook business page?

Have you noticed anything different about your Facebook timeline? Perhaps you are now seeing more photos posted by friends and family and less published by businesses and other media brands on Facebook. If you’ve noticed a difference, then the strategy launched by Facebook executives last month is working. With a 20% decrease in Facebook engagement over the past 12 months, the company decided to make major changes to how its “algorithm” works.

Mark Zuckenberg, Facebook’s founder and CEO was quoted in January as saying that feedback from the Facebook community suggests public content is “crowding out the personal moments that lead us to connect more with each other,” and therefore the social media giant intended to make changes to its news feed.

As individual Facebook users, we probably think this is a good thing… and perhaps it is (although there are others who suspect our society’s appetite for social media is unhealthy and needs to be reduced… but that’s another story). However, for business page owners it presents a challenge. How do you achieve a greater organic reach for your posts? Paid advertising is of course a way of increasing reach and maximising engagement, but today’s post contains a few tips on how to improve the chances of people reading your content without spending your money and boosting Facebook’s profits further.

  1. Prepare a Content Plan. Planning ahead is a useful tool, selecting topics and themes that we think will interest our readers and our target market. Of course, there will be some things that can’t be foreseen, but an agenda or plan which sets out your content priorities for the next few weeks and months can very helpful and saves time in the long run. Events (Valentines, Christmas etc.), seasonal themed activities (spring, summer etc.), case studies, testimonials, FAQs, how-tos… the list can be quite extensive. You can use a spreadsheet or there are plenty of tools online such as Asana, Taboola etc.
  2. Focus on Engagement.  Ask questions (studies have shown that questions with the words “would”, “should” and “how” can be particularly effective) to encourage comments and discussion. Facebook rates “comments” more highly than “likes”, which increases the chances your post will feature in a persons newsfeed. Consider using shorter sentences (we read more slowly online than print) and always use strong visual images with Calls To Action (CTA).
  3. Use Video and Facebook Live. People love to watch videos due to its interactivity and Facebook Live is increasingly popular too. If you have a product launch, an event, or some exciting news that you are looking to share, why not consider using it?

These are only a few tips on how to build an effective presence on Facebook; the world of social media is constantly evolving which makes it so fascinating but also a challenge for business owners and marketers!

What do you think of the changes made by Facebook – and do you have any tips to share?

Gin BottlesWhat’s your poison? The booming UK gin market.

Which market is now worth £1 billion (€1.1 billion) and has exports from the UK which now exceed the value of British beef and soft drinks? Gin of course – and over the past 5 years, this market has seen phenomenal growth with the opening of new distilleries and the launching of new brands, especially in the independent craft gin sector.


Recently I undertook some research into the UK gin market as part of a piece of work for a client (after all, somebody has to do it!) and discovered some fascinating insights into how this drink has changed its image to appeal to new markets. Traditionally, the typical gin drinker was perceived as someone over the age of 50 and was a relatively unfashionable drink that was largely taken with a dash of tonic and a slice of lime.

However, in 2009 things changed with the relaxation of licensing which enabled new distilleries to be set up across the UK (including that home of whisky, Scotland), with new ingredients and new flavours created to interest and excite a younger generation; bar tenders have played an important role too, concocting different cocktails in bars and clubs that have challenged the old perception and established a positive reputation for the drink amongst the millennial generation.

Bombay Sapphire has been especially clever I think in how they have designed their marketing campaigns to reach this market. The drink (now owned by Bacardi) was first launched in 1987 and this iconic sapphire blue bottle is now a firm favourite with many gin lovers, capturing an increasing share of the premium brand market in recent years. Using art and vivid colours which aim to create exotic experiences and connect with inspiring themes of food and travel, Bombay Sapphire has successfully positioned itself to reach young professionals. I particularly enjoyed this video which arguably communicates many of the messages that Bombay uses.   

But of course it’s not just the big boys that are benefiting from the burgeoning gin market: much of this growth as has been mentioned derives from the independent, artisanal craft market. There are plenty of examples; after all, there are now some 275 distilleries operational within the UK. And lots more on the continent of Europe, and across the world, too…. One of my favourite brands is Normindia which is produced by a Calvados distillery close by, Domaine du Coquerel.  In an old family book dated from 1765 called "La Chymie du Goût et de l’Odorat" (approved by Louis XV - King of France) the family owned firm discovered a recipe of a Juniper distillate. It was decided to combine this traditional recipe with Indian botanicals to create an entirely new type of gin – Normindia; the objective was to produce a gin that was fresh, fruity and smooth like their Calvados Fine and that gets a little spicy and floral at the end like their Calvados VSOP.

These are only two examples – large businesses and an independent owned enterprise – taking advantage of the changing taste for alcoholic drinks and successfully tapping into new markets. Bombay Sapphire is demonstrating how to use carefully executed online campaigns and achieving a huge social media reach; whilst the Domaine du Coquerel is proving how effective diversification can be, creating a gin product to complement its’ existing range of Calvados and other drinks.
Good luck to all those seeking to launch new products or services in 2018. Cheers!

  • December
  • November
  • October
  • September
  • August
  • July
  • June
  • May
  • April
  • March
  • February
  • January

As December draws to a close, it’s time to reflect on another year gone past.

Firstly, thank you to all of my clients who have entrusted me with their projects and business ideas! Over the past few months here at Hibou we have helped businesses supplying innovative apps, food and retail businesses, specialist suppliers and many other types of enterprise, both in France and the UK. We have also commenced work on a bilateral international project….I love the variety of my job, whether it is providing a copywriting service, offering marketing strategy and advice, implementing a fundraising plan or managing a social media presence.

Hibou Communication is dependent upon others as well: thank you in particular to my wife Anne who takes many of the excellent photos that we use for our communications.  A wider support network is also really important for me and this year I have continued to be involved in business networks such as Club MES attending both the regular meetings and our annual summer event.  Business organisations are important as a means of keeping in touch with developments, making new contacts and broadening a knowledge base of the local area.

A final thank you to other business colleagues who have helped me along the way! There have been so many and I am grateful to all. Having the opportunity to chat through ideas or issues is so useful; it helps to make a busy day all the more enjoyable as well as productive.

I would like to end by wishing you all a Happy Christmas and a healthy and prosperous 2018.

Enjoy the festivities of the season.


What have we learned this year about marketing?

Quite a bit, actually!

For those who are looking for a summary in a few sentences, I guess you’d say that there is;
1) More content online than ever before
2) People are becoming more interested in longer articles
3) It’s increasingly important to get quality links

But if you want to learn more, read on…

I recently came across an article which discussed this very issue and therefore I thought I would share with others my observations. You can click on a link to the full piece below.
The internet has, of course, made it extremely easy for more and more people and businesses to publish their content, with the number of articles growing exponentially each year. Whatever the theme or subject, there’s a likelihood that you will be able to find an answer, solution or an opinion… but is the massive increase in marketing content a problem or an opportunity for those of us who provide marketing services?

Certainly it’s both… but the real challenge is how to make your brand stand out from the crowd. Therefore, it is a good idea to identify a specific niche for your business which will set it apart from the competition.  Combined with your marketing strategy it will enable you to promote your content to your target audience more efficiently and effectively.

This leads me on neatly to my second point: more can sometimes be better than less. Certainly in today’s world, brevity can be the perfect way of communicating a specific point. As they say, why use 500 words when 100 will do? But what is becoming increasingly clear is that online readers are hungry for good quality, well-written, referenced content which educates and informs as well as entertains: usually consisting of longer form content of between 500 – 2000 words. There is a separate issue which the article I read also discusses, i.e. how frequently to publish. I think that the answer will vary hugely according to the sector and industry, but as rule of thumb it’s more important to follow a consistent strategy over a period of time, which is backed up with a comprehensive content plan that you can change and develop as you need to.

One final point: we love our content to be shared (yes we do!), but it is at least as important to gain links too. Why? Essentially it is saying to the likes of Google that our content is valued by others. There are a number of types of content that you could use to try and secure more links, one of which is to ask questions or write about a topic that is trending – offering a distinctive viewpoint.

These are only a few of the insights that I found extremely interesting – to read more click on the article here.     

What do you think? What makes you share a post or article and why?

Postcard going into letterboxHow a 19th century invention can help us in the 21st

Last month it was announced that the last company in the UK to manufacture postcards – J Salmon – was to cease trading after 137 years. Sad news for those who remember writing and sending postcards on holiday – but it got me thinking about how useful this iconic piece of stationery was and the advantages it has over today’s fast paced social media whose impact can be ephemeral or short-lived.

Postcards were first used by travellers in the late 19th century to send messages from across the world to friends and family. Their popularity coincided with the growth of postal services, expanding rail travel and an interest in different cultures and countries, providing a visual image of other parts of the globe.

It probably appears quite strange to the millennial generation brought up on Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, but even as recently as the early 2000’s it was commonplace to send a postcard to colleagues at work. Returning to the office a week or two later, the postcards from holidays in the UK and abroad sent by fellow employees would be fixed to the noticeboards and in the tea room for everyone to read, enjoy and maybe envy…

Postcards though have many additional and practical benefits which make them extremely useful as a communication medium even today.  These are some of my favourites which I’ve used from time-to-time.

  • To record personal thoughts to reflect and to inspire. Why not use a postcard to write down the things or experiences that inspire you? Postcards are the perfect shape to store in a notebook or pin to a noticeboard, reminding us of what is good in our lives and motivates us. Once I was asked to write an imaginary postcard to myself, looking forward 2 years hence, reflecting on how I had used my time on a personal development course to progress and change my life. A postcard can be a very powerful piece of paper….
  • As a marketing tool. If you are planning an event, promoting a new product/service or simply want to get people to take note of you – send a postcard. It will provide a refreshing alternative to e-mails and social media. Postcards can be relatively inexpensive to print and nowadays you can design them yourself using many free software tools such as Canva.
  • As a “thank you”.  How many of us send a thank you note these days? Perhaps we have received a lovely gift for a birthday, shared a wonderful holiday with a friend or received great support from family or colleagues? Whatever the occasion, a postcard can be a superb way of simply saying “thank you” and it likely that it will be hugely appreciated by the recipient – especially as most of the post we receive these days is junk!

These are three ways in which I feel that postcards continue to have a place in our personal and in our professional lives. What do you think?

Autuminal TreeLa Rentrée: optimism and opportunity

SEPTEMBER is here already. Where did the summer go?

I have to confess that I love the start of the autumn months. In recent years we’ve enjoyed some really nice weather during September; I really appreciate the soft, warm sunshine, blue skies, the changing colour of the trees, the fresh, ripe fruit and delicious home grown vegetables that are available for those of us who have potagers ...the feeling that summer is perhaps not quite over yet, although unquestionably we’ve moved into a new time of year.

For me, September is also akin to a new start; all of us will have memories no doubt from starting school at this time of year, perhaps some good, some bad....but in my view it is also an opportunity for all of us to reflect in preparation for what is often for most businesses, as well as those in education, an especially busy time of year.

The French, as always, have a useful word for it - la rentrée.  

August in France is traditionally a time when most people have their holidays, often taking three or more weeks off, as families head to the countryside or the coast. So the start of September effectively represents a return to normality, when many of us return to work after a long break. And the President of the Republic takes the lead, visiting schools across the country, encouraging us to seize the opportunities that are open to us at this important time of the year.

La rentrée was officially Monday 4th September for schools across France, but it is similarly relevant to life in other areas too. Last weekend our nearest town held its’ annual exhibition of local groups and associations, where you could join sports organisations, drama groups, art & literature classes as well as participating in the local twinning committee with Jersey… a plethora of activities and interests. 

So as we perhaps think about the summer that has now past, and think about the holidays that we've had, let's also celebrate the coming of Autumn, enjoying the changing seasons and commence afresh for the challenges ahead.

For the remaining months of 2017, set yourself some fresh targets whether these relate to business objectives or how you spend your leisure time.

Have a great autumn…

VW Camper VanAugust is more than just a holiday month

AUGUST for me is a month which is quite different from the rest of the year; traditionally a time when many people take a long holiday from their busy working lives, children are off from school, and it is a period of time in which the seasons are gradually changing: darker evenings become noticeable for the first time, the trees and vegetation change from that lush green colour so evident in May and June to a more pastel hue, and we start to feel that chill in the night air that signals that autumn is perhaps not too far away.

For a month that is associated with vacations and time spent away from the workplace, August can be quite significant in terms of historical events.

In 2007, the Credit Crunch first became apparent, quickly spreading across the world with investors unable to access their assets in the banking system; the British government of 1931 collapsed after being forced to borrow from the United States and France; and August was also the start of military crises that had worldwide impact, such as the invasion of Kuwait in 1992 by Iraq and, of course, the Great War in 1914. 1st August was also the day I first started work back in 1986, so August has never really been for me a holiday time, but a month which I enjoy as being quite different to others.

Back to today and the economic challenges of 2017 which continue to face us: Brexit, the increasingly tense situation in North Korea and the ongoing environmental challenges in many parts of the world.

Several years ago, I attended a business networking dinner in the UK which predicted that the west was in for a period - of at least a decade - of limited economic growth, reducing household disposable incomes, potential "stagflation" (low economic growth and inflation), and pressures on government to maintain the standard of public services with increasingly limited income. A depressing scenario and one that could give anyone indigestion!

However, I think for many people in business the situation is one in which they have had to learn to adapt in order thrive, with a decade of ultra-low interest rates and seismic political changes.

So if you are lucky to be able to take time off this month, enjoy it and refresh your batteries for the autumn!

Bee on a ZinniaHow Zinnias can inspire your business to grow

Gardening has always interested me but it is only since we moved to France that I have found the space and the time to gain a better understanding of how to successfully grow and maintain a garden. We are fortunate in having several different garden beds, some of which we have built from new and a decent sized area of land to work with, including a vegetable garden (or potager).

One of the lessons that I have learnt is that plants vary hugely in terms of how they should be grown to achieve the very best results. Over the past few years I have attempted to grow as many flowers and vegetables as possible from seed, experimenting with a range of varieties, often for the first time.  It has not always been a success but sometimes the end product – a beautiful display of colourful flowers – is well worth the wait and the effort.  A huge amount of patience is also required – which recently got me thinking about the similarities with developing a successful business or project. Take Zinnias for example.

Last year I grew Zinnias from a small pack of seeds and they bloomed beautifully from around late July to early November. At first, they took a long time to germinate and really establish themselves, requiring regular attention, careful nurturing, watering, and sunshine; as well as plenty of weeding around the base of the young plant before I was confident enough to plant them out in the garden bed. And even then it took time to flourish, to the extent that I wondered whether I would ever see the plant at its very best. But with a little more time, the Zinnias grew in confidence and soon we had a rich array of gorgeous colours which continued for several months, providing enjoyment to us and our guests for the remainder of the summer and into the autumn.

I certainly do not consider myself to be an expert gardener, but what I do know is that it is important to invest time and energy, learn from mistakes and be prepared to adapt to achieve a successful outcome. I regularly come across situations in which people fail to understand how crucial business planning is, ignoring the importance of following a structured process when it is needed and paying insufficient attention to the detail. Often, they will underestimate the lengthy period that it will take to achieve the return they are seeking, for example from a marketing campaign or financial investment: calling time long before it was given a chance to succeed. The final result is often a project which does not achieve its potential or even fails completely.   

Creating and developing new business ideas are exciting, sometimes daunting and hard work – but rewarding. So as I start to think about new plant ideas for 2018 I am going to remember that the many weeks and months of planning and effort will be well worth it.  

June 2017 BlogSTOP! Simple tips on what to check for before you publish

Do you check what you have written before you publish it on social media?  Do you read through your work, editing out any typos or mistakes? Maybe you do – but my guess is many people do not.

Let me be clear: I’m not really talking about the type of posts that we have all written whilst on an evening out, having a drink or a meal with friends or just sitting in front of the TV – no, my point concerns the use of social media for business purposes, such as Facebook and Twitter. And it’s surprising how we often fail to carry out even the most basic checks for misspelt words, poor grammar or shoddy punctuation.

The word “social” is perhaps a bit of a conundrum.

In the early days of Facebook, we primarily used it for social communications, making new friends, celebrating birthdays, posting funny photos, Christmas and the like. But Facebook (and the other four largest social networks: LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest) is now big business. Facebook alone claims 2 billion users, and businesses are reaching millions of consumers every day with social networking an established marketing communications channel.

In 2017 it is probably more appropriate to understand the role these networks have in terms of their media reach and marketing potential; which is why you need to follow a few simple steps and ensure that what you are publishing is appropriate, looks professional and will increase your chances of securing better engagement.

  1. Proof read your work. Even if it’s only 140 characters on twitter, or say 50-60 words on Facebook, check your spelling and punctuation and ensure that your apostrophes are used correctly…We all make mistakes, but if you can avoid doing so your work will appear more professional, carry greater weight and readers are more likely to respect you for what you say.
  2. Don’t write overly long sentences.  I admit that’s tempting; perhaps you are introducing a new product and wish to extol the benefits and features as clearly as you can. Long sentences certainly have their place; but try to economise on the words and the chances are more people will read it and understand it.
  3. Minimise the exclamation marks!  Yes! If I read a post which is full of exclamation marks, I tend to take it less seriously. Use them by all means – but sparingly.

One of the huge advantages of social media is the fact that it has opened up opportunities for us to self-publish and communicate with people across the globe. But like many things, this is a double-edged sword… so think carefully before you publish…

Why write a blog?

I love writing. The forming of ideas in my head, the jotting down of these thoughts on paper, the research, drafting and of course, the actual writing process. I also love to blog. Recently I have been busy with a number of projects for clients, so confess that my monthly blog sometimes appears later than I’d like… but blogging via my Hibou website and LinkedIn page is very important. Why?

Clients sometimes ask me what is the value from publishing a regular blog on-line. I accept that it’s a discipline that can be hard to maintain given the pressure of time, with priority often given to delivering the essentials whatever line of business you are in. But like any type of marketing activity (and that’s what it is, after all) blogging has a number of benefits which I would like to share with you. It’s not an exhaustive list – you may have your own suggestions as well (and feel free to comment!). Here are my top 4:-

  1. More people will visit your website. Well written, interesting and relevant content will make your site show up in search engines and drive people to it in an organic search. So for your business, that’s potentially more people that will have an opportunity to find out about you, your business and how you can help them with a service or product.
  2. It supplies you with great content for using with social media. You can use Facebook, for example, to publish snippets from your latest blog, post the whole article and maybe even promote with a paid ad. Include good quality photos or perhaps even consider a video blog (“vlog”). There are many ways in which you can use it via social media – the most crucial ingredient being that you create content people want to read.
  3. Blogging can help establish you as an authority on a specific subject. Don’t be shy – tell people about the things you are passionate about, why you do them and how they can help you; whether it is to grow a business, manage a project or perhaps even help someone else or do something useful for a charity or social enterprise. Blogging is a fun and purposeful way of gaining attention for your brand.
  4. In the long-term, your business will be more profitable. Let’s be honest: we all need to make money (there’s no harm in that!) and to generate income, we need customers. Blogging is a superb way of providing the potential for more leads and enquiries which you should eventually be able to convert into sales.

I believe in the value of blogging and have written regularly online for 6 years now.

What do you think?

Did you ever have a pen pal?

Did you ever have a pen pal when you were younger? If you are not familiar with the term, a pen pal is a person that you probably have never met but to whom you agree to write to on a regular basis. Often, a pen pal is someone who gives you the opportunity to write in another language to improve your knowledge.

When I was in my early teenage years, I had two pen pals in fact, one who lived in Oslo, Norway and another in the Rhineland area of (West) Germany. I remember a friend at school persuading me to join in; I say persuading, I think that she probably sent my name and address to the company providing the service who matched my details on their database. Then a few weeks later I received a letter (there was no online subscription, of course), and a photo from my new friend in Norway. I confess that I can no longer remember her name nor have I kept any of the correspondence. However, later I began writing to Cornelia in Germany, a friendship which continued throughout the 1980s and into our 20s, before I lost contact at the end of that decade. Over those years we met up and I spent two lovely holidays staying with her family. I recall that we exchanged many letters about our lives, Christmas cards, photos, our dreams when we left school/college, news about our family and friends as well as our summer holidays.

In the world in which we now live, dominated by instant communication and social media, having a pen pal who writes using pen and paper and sends their letters via snail mail must seem incredibly antiquated. And I guess it is to a large extent.

But as I look back to that period, I reflect that having a pen pal had quite a big impact on my life and communication skills. It gave me confidence to read and write regularly, both in a foreign language (German) and my own, to understand other European cultures, meet new people and it also inspired me to explore the world in which we live, not only my home town or country. It certainly influenced how I think and feel, even to this today.

Letter writing is sadly now a dying art, with many people (even me) more comfortable using a keyboard as opposed to old-fashioned pen and ink to write.  But I hope that in the years to come, many young people may discover the joys of pen pals and benefit in the same way that I did.

The importance of networking and seeking new challenges

I’ve always believed in seeking new challenges in my professional life.  I love to learn new things, meet new people and explore and understand the wider world, whether this is a new country, a new business sector or a different region to where I live. It has enabled me to grow as an individual and given me the confidence to seek new opportunities in my life.
Since moving to Normandy in France three years ago, there have been of course many new challenges: learning French, understanding the different business culture, earning income through self-employment, building several new businesses and creating new networks.  

Of course, all of these are important if you need to earn a living. But it is the importance of networking that I return to as the theme for my blog. I am passionate about its value, both in terms of enabling us to find out more about the area and communities in which we live, to integrate successfully and allow us to become financially self-sufficient.

Networking isn’t a short-term fix and it’s also not about making a contact and expecting something in return. It’s a long-term investment of time, and sometimes money. However, if you do take the time to seek out new business networks, build relationships with others (for example people undertaking complementary activities or services) with a consistent approach you will benefit in the future.

I don’t see networking in purely monetary terms, it’s important to add. I really enjoy having the opportunity to make new friends and colleagues as a result of networking which often results in visiting different places, attending interesting exhibitions and the like. Over the past couple of years I’ve done precisely that, and look forward to exploring further in the future.

I recently calculated that around 90% of the business I’ve generated since establishing Hibou Communication has been as a result of networking. I am always delighted to welcome new clients and it’s incredibly satisfying on a professional level. So I will end by encouraging you to join new business networks, whether these are BNI, Chamber of Commerce or specific to your particular industry, community and region. Trust me, it will be time well spent.

Have a great spring.

Creating trust with your content will bring results

How do you get your business onto the first page of the Google search results? Undoubtedly that is what all of us want to achieve and the internet is filled with advice on the best strategies to follow. Recently I read an interesting article on Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) trends in 2017 by Robert Adams which I wanted to share, as for me it communicated clearly one of the crucial rules that we all need to follow if we are to place our business products and services top of the search – creating trust. Adams highlighted three fundamental components of search in which it was necessary to create trust, but I will focus on one – content.

Securing a pivotal position on Google’s Search Engine Results Pages (SERPS) will largely be achieved through being consistent in creating content that is well-written, engages with the reader and target audience and focuses on the appropriate keywords. Now if you are from the UK and are of a similar age to me, the acronym SERPS will remind you of saving for your retirement – and nothing to do with the internet! (For those of you who need enlightening, the “other” SERPS is the State Earnings Related Pension Scheme…) 

Content is crucial. And as Adams rightly points out in his article, many people make the mistake of underestimating its’ importance – but in fact, great content will be one of the main ways in which Google’s algorithms will decide on the relevance of your online pages to potential readers.

Of course, content can be produced in a variety of ways: in text (short and lengthier articles), videos, photos and infographics. Whatever the type of content, it’s really important to ensure that you avoid creating content that has a poor use of grammar, spelling msitakes – sorry mistakes – or relies heavily on sites such as Wikipedia.

There are a number of useful ways for planning and implementing content strategies; but ultimately it is essential to understand what your audience likes to read and engages with, which is where Facebook can be so valuable in terms of observing comments and feedback. After writing a specific piece of copy for a client and publishing it on social media, I spend a fair amount of time reviewing the comments that were made to understand its relevance and engagement.

Creating content on all manner of subjects, products and services is a great way to earn a living, but delivering this consistently and of a high quality is paramount. You can have a read of the full article here.

What do you think?

If you were a castaway on a desert island, what would you choose to take with you?

On the 29th January 1942 the very first Desert Island Discs programme was broadcast on radio. Over the past 75 years the series has been extremely popular with thousands of well-known guests appearing, each having the opportunity to select eight recordings of their choice together with a book and a luxury item.

In celebration of this anniversary, I thought I would share with you a selection of my favourite music, literature and of course, a luxury piece.

Choosing eight recordings is difficult enough; but today I am limiting myself to only two… The first is Your Song by Elton John. It was one of his first hits – and also one of the best. Elton John uses simple words for the lyrics, a good rhythm and has been considered by many critics to be “near perfect”. I never tire of listening to it. My second recording is by Russian composer Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky – the Sleeping Beauty suite of Swan Lake – Lake in the Mountain. I love ballet, and this performance never ceases to move me.

Next my choice of book: and on this occasion, especially as I am marooned on a desert island, I will opt for an entire collection. Colin Dexter wrote the Inspector Morse novels more than 40 years ago and the stories centre on the role of Detective Inspector Morse and his loyal Sergeant Lewis who have the unenviable task of solving Oxford’s many murder crimes. Naturally, many people will remember the television series, which I also love; but the books deserve a mention too as they capture so well the ambience and famous spires of the city that I know quite well having worked there.

Finally, what would my luxury item be? A corkscrew to open a bottle of wine (I guess not, as there probably would not be any vineyards close by…)? Upon reflection, I would have to select a mobile phone to keep me in contact with the people I love; family and friends.

I would like to wish everyone a great 2017. 

  • December
  • November
  • October
  • September
  • August
  • July
  • June
  • May
  • April
  • March
  • February
  • January

What kind of year has 2016 been for you?

Politically, it certainly has been an interesting one – with the US election and a referendum in the UK – whatever your point of view, they will have a significant impact on people’s lives and the business world.

Here at Hibou, it’s been a year in which we have welcomed a number of new clients and we would like to take this opportunity to say a big “thank you” to each and every one of you. We have provided business development advice to a French based engineering business; helped a client win an election to the post of Chair of a leading academic professional body by providing marketing and social media services; we continue to perform the role of Community Manager for a Caen based enterprise that released its new BubbleMe app earlier this year; and provided copywriting services for a whole host of additional businesses across France and in Britain.

We are passionate about helping our clients succeed in achieving their business goals and love what we do! And Anne and I are so fortunate in living here in this beautiful place on the Normandy/Brittany borders which frequently is the source of much inspiration!

We would like to again thank you for your support and hope that 2016 has been equally kind to you, your family and your business.

The importance of building and maintaining your networks

I love the variety that my work brings to my professional life. Since establishing Hibou Communication in 2014 I have been lucky to work with a number of different businesses – start-ups and established enterprises looking to launch new products or services, both here in France and in the UK. Nowadays the world of marketing is full of advice about the importance of digital communications, social media and online publishing – and quite right too. These are all crucial areas that businesses need to understand and engage with.

Especially for those businesses trading globally or over a significant distance electronic communications are obviously paramount but for those businesses starting at a local or regional level, sometimes some of the basics can be forgotten – which is why I made building good relationships with potential clients and establishing a network the theme of this month’s blog.

I really enjoy networking and I welcome the opportunity to meet with all kinds of different people and businesses. Even since moving to France – and when you move to a new country it’s even more important, despite the linguistic challenges that are bound to occur – I made creating a new network one of my first priorities. That’s one of the reasons why I joined Club Manche Enterprise Services and participate in as many Chamber of Commerce events that I can. The benefits are many; you learn about the community in which you live, you discover new ideas, you identify potential business partners and yes, from time-to-time, you win business opportunities which earn you money. And you can have fun too; earlier this year the Club MES had a go-karting competition, which I didn’t excel at but I had never tried before and it was really enjoyable.

All incredibly simple stuff you might think; but even in 2016 the importance of networking and also in getting to know your potential clients and market place is underestimated. Businesses today need a great website, interesting and topical content, relevant social media connections and a range of other marketing tools at their disposal. But they also need to complement this activity with meeting people and fellow entrepreneurs; who knows, they could be possible business partners or clients.

So why not make 2017 the year that you make creating and maintaining your business network a priority…. It could be one of the best decisions that you’ll make.  

No network? No problem

Nowadays most of us own a mobile – infact, it’s estimated that there are some 7 billion mobile devices used across the world and each year the number increases. That’s more than the total world population, incidentally. Modern technology has facilitated this huge growth in portable communications and for many of us we could not be without our mobile; to send text messages, watch the latest videos, talk or to download and use one of the latest apps.

Even with the better connectivity and reach of satellite technology there will be many situations of course when it’s not possible to make a connection to a mobile phone operator or to access a Wi-Fi signal. For many years I commuted regularly on a train from the south coast to London and trying to use my mobile was generally impossible due to poor communications. Often I would be content with reading a newspaper or a book, or making notes for a business meeting. However, sometimes I felt the need to have a chat and although occasionally some people are happy to have a conversation on a train it is often not the case and having access to my mobile would have been beneficial.

This month Hibou has started working with a team based in Caen, Normandy that aims to bring a new app – BubbleMe – to a wider audience and to benefit from the product’s ability to connect people without the need for an operator network or Wi-Fi. BubbleMe is an app that uses the latest Bluetooth technology which means that once you’ve downloaded it you will be able to discover people around you, enabling you to initiate conversations with like-minded people, make new business contacts or whatever you’d like to do. There are in-built security features which mean that you can control what information is shared about you – particularly useful for women travelling by themselves, for example – and a range of other benefits. We believe that BubbleMe is perfect for a whole host of situations, including on public transport (buses, boats, trains), airport lounges, at business conferences and exhibitions (where you may be looking for new opportunities and contacts), music festivals and more.

BubbleMe is unique in that it uses your social media profiles from Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn to connect you to the outside world and can generally be used up to a distance of around 300 metres. What’s more, the app is free and can be downloaded onto iPhones and is compatible with many android devices. For more information you can go to the App Store or Google Play.  It’s quick and easy to install and uses a limited amount of space on your mobile.

The world is an exciting place to explore – and working with the guys at BubbleMe we think that we’re helping to people to discover their world that little bit more.

The importance of storytelling in content marketing

We all love stories. I can still remember the colourful books from my childhood full of exciting characters, the faraway places and amazing fictional tales of castles, dragons and talking vintage cars (if you remember Gumdrop, lovely stories written by the late Val Biro?). As adults, we sometimes may not think about the importance of storytelling in our everyday lives; but yet as consumers and as citizens we will generally respond well to articles, posts and newsletters which tell a story by reading, sharing and liking the content. Stories allow us to use our imaginations, to make connections with our past and help us to look to the future.

This week I came across an interesting event called Being The Story held in London and organised by a digital storytelling and training agency, sounddelivery. This company works with charities, not for profits and third sector organisations in the UK by helping people to tell stories with real impact. The event featured 10 inspirational individuals including a photographer who despite his physical disabilities tells the stories of people fleeing the crisis in Syria; a couple who have channelled their grief of losing a child into advancing medical technology in the field of orthotics; and a musician, artist and poet who seeks to tackle the complexity of mental health and depression in an amusing and interesting way.

In each of these cases, individuals use stories to powerfully communicate their experience and how they have overcome adversity to reach a more positive conclusion, in many cases resulting in social change and a better life for others.

Of course, storytelling doesn’t have to be just about challenging the norms in our society or making a difference. That’s great but as human beings we are looking to achieve other things in our lives as well. So let’s not forget the importance of storytelling, whether you or your business is seeking to talk about promoting your latest product or service, share your experiences as a tourist by visiting one of the many exciting places to see in the world or even your favourite food or drink.

Nowadays the internet is awash with digital content on any subject you care to think of – and of course, not all of it is worth reading…. indeed, increasingly much of it is unoriginal and uninteresting.  So if you want to make your content readable and of interest to your reader, think about telling a story. Share your experiences, talk about the origins of your product or allow people to understand the importance of your values to your work.

Thanks for reading and good luck with telling your story.

Inspirational travel writing

I love travel writing. Reading about different places: some familiar, other places completely new; the people who live there, the personalities and interesting characters that live their lives in the cities, towns, villages and remote rural locations across the world. So this being August, I thought I’d devote this month’s blog to a selection of travel writers that I enjoy reading; some famous, some not…

Ernest Hemingway. This iconic American writer travelled extensively during his life (including spells on military duty during both world wars), spending time in Paris, Spain, Cuba, Canada, the Caribbean as well as the UK. Although it is not strictly a travel book, one of my favourite Hemingway novels is A Moveable Feast which is a recollection of his time living as a struggling writer in 1920’s Paris. I richly enjoyed reading this book, its vivid descriptions of France’s capital city during the inter-war years, the café culture, his love of horse racing and relationship with various other writers. After the tragic terrorist outrage in Paris in 2015 the book was republished and became an instant hit, people attracted to the passion with which Hemingway wrote about the city in perhaps a more genteel era.

Lawrence Durrell. I have visited Cyprus on several occasions for holidays and Durrell’s book Bitter Lemons of Cyprus, written in the 1950s before the island was divided between the Turkish and Greek communities, is on my list of must-read books. Durrell, although British, spent virtually all of his life abroad in Corfu and Cyprus before settling in France in later life. The book provides an insight into the politics which has bedevilled this beautiful island for many decades and after reading it, I felt that I had a good understanding as well as affection for the country.

John Ardagh. Whenever I visit a country I try to get to know some of the language, the culture and characteristics of the people. Germany has always been a country that I have loved and have been interested in, and Ardagh’s impressive book Germany and The Germans written in the late 1980s really goes to the heart of what made pre-reunification Germany tick. My knowledge of Germany suggests that Ardagh had an excellent understanding of the country and its’ people. The author is also famous for writing what is considered to be the definite portrait of modern France and although in the past 25 years the country has undoubtedly seen further significant changes.

These are only three choices of books that for me demonstrate quality writing about countries in the various parts of our globe. Myself, I also enjoy my own travel writing and publish regular blogs on the Visit South East England website. Please feel free to share who are amongst your favourite travel writers and why.

Thanks for reading.


Useful online research techniques for your writing project

Undertaking research as part of a writing project has changed hugely since the arrival of the internet. Back in the 1990s I worked for a charity and a public sector organisation that specialised in the provision of health information and it was an exciting time, when the web was in its’ infancy.  At that time the printed word  (books, journals, pamphlets) was still king – and I recall discussions, now more than twenty years ago, as to whether online information could ever be relied upon for accuracy and quality of content – what a transformation there has been! Nowadays, the vast majority of people with access to a pc, tablet or mobile will search first of all on the web to find all the information that they could possibly need, being able to access vast quantities of material: some excellent, some good, and some extremely poor and unreliable.

So in this blog post I thought I’d give you three research techniques you can use online that will help you write a piece of work – whether it’s for copywriting or for the first chapter of your new book.

Google’s tax affairs may be the subject of considerable controversy, but there’s no doubt that it’s likely to be the website search engine that you’ll turn to first. However there is now a new kid on the block that is attempting to rival Google – Qwant, a French based company that claims to be more secure and will respect your privacy with no tracking. Qwant promises that it does not “stalk” users through the use of cookies (the small files that store information) or indeed collect any personal browsing type data, including web addresses.

Qwant is currently negotiating with Mozilla to become the default browser on Firefox; and if it succeeds, it will no doubt help to significantly raise its’ profile. That said it appears to be growing strongly with the number of users increasing by up to 20% each month.

Once you’ve decided on your search engine, there are several different techniques that you could use and I’m sharing three of these in this post:-

  1. Ask questions naturally. In 2016, search engines are increasingly efficient at understanding what the user is looking for, so if you want to try by asking a fully-formed question… go ahead. Even if your question is quite long. You may be (pleasantly) surprised with the results…

  2. Take out words of no interest. Say for example you’re searching for information about the French Telecoms giant Orange; you’re interested in their broader range of services but not in their telephones. If you type ‘orange –phone’ you’ll see pages with direct reference to Orange phones removed. No doubt you can come up with your own relevant examples.

  3. Use quotation marks to make your search specific. By using “quotation marks” you’ll be telling your search engine that you are only looking for information specifically about this item, whether it is “Paris”, “Normandy”, “Cats” or “Exotic Fish”. I’m sure you get the picture…

There are plenty of other ways to help improve your research techniques – but I’ll leave those to another time.

Enjoy the rest of the summer.

Learning new skills online

Earlier this month I was extremely privileged to be introduced to Tony Vaccaro a photographer and former American soldier who was part of the D-Day Landings in Normandy in June 1944. I was visiting Caen as part of a running team and we were given a personal tour of his new photographic exhibition, chronicling a life in pictures: war, the rich and famous and high fashion. An eclectic mix of subjects of course, but it was an honour to have an opportunity to meet this fascinating man, still extremely active at the age of 93.

Last year Tony opened a new studio in his home city of New York. What a great example he is setting:  demonstrating that you are never too old to launch a new enterprise or even to develop new skills.

Developing new skills and competencies is of course important to each and every one of us and in this ever-changing world that we live in continuing professional development remains a key part of this.

Recently I came across an extremely useful website called FutureLearn which is run by the Open University. It is one of the many “Massive Open Online Courses” – called Mooc for short – offering a huge range of online courses – which are now available and are free. The courses are prepared by some of the UK’s leading universities and educational institutions – so whether you are interested in learning more about Robotics, genomic medicine, the history of European integration (or perhaps after this 4-month long Referendum, maybe not…) or you are looking for an introduction to eco-systems, you can start today and learn something new: for practical benefit or simply to broaden your mind.

Online courses are perfect for people with busy lives or who live remotely – and who wish to dip in and participate in study rather than working to a traditional course schedule. I recently signed up to the course Storytelling in Advertising as I’m interested in how brands use stories to communicate. With so much information being uploaded every second of the day, it is challenging to say the least for companies to compete for readers’ attention so how the message is communicated is fundamentally important.

To help businesses develop new skills and understand new concepts, Hibou Communication has created its’ own range of two hour short courses all of which seek to help business owners prepare a Marketing Plan or expand a service or product. These workshops are held either face-to-face or can be via the internet so distance is no object! If you’d like to find out more please go to our brochure where you can view further information.

Whether you are 43 or 93 – it’s always important to keep learning ….

Finding writing inspiration in the garden

I’ve always enjoyed gardening, although if truth be told until recently I have not had much time to spend growing plants let alone finding the time to create and maintain a garden.

One of my earlier memories is weeding the front bed of a garden in our family home and to this day, weeding remains one of my “favourite” pastimes in the garden. I say favourite, perhaps that is not quite the right word; but nevertheless it is a task that is essential in all gardening and is incredibly therapeutic. Weeding is necessary to allow the flowers and shrubs space to grow, keeping the bed tidy…. but natural too.

Our home in France has two decent sized lawns, several garden beds, plenty of trees and shrubs and a potager (vegetable garden) that is now full of potatoes, onions, garlic and other crops.   So there is a lot to keep me busy, particularly when the sun is shining and taking me away from my office and computer.

The garden has of course provided plenty of literary inspiration over the centuries; and in recent years there have been a number of celebrity gardeners who have temporarily laid down their spade and put away their trowel to write both fiction and non-fiction, Alan Titchmarsh being a notable example.

I recently read an article which stated that behind (almost) every great writer is a great gardener, with the piece citing Jane Austen (Chawton), Winston Churchill (Chartwell) and Agatha Christie (Greenway) amongst others. I am sure there will be many great writers who have probably never lifted a rake or weeded in their lives, but nevertheless gardening is certainly good for the soul, which in turn produces creativity. There has been many a time when I have looked across the garden to see the beautiful array of colours, the roses starting to bloom, the Sweet Williams budding with great intensity and found both great joy and pleasure resulting in a desire capture this moment for years to come in writing.

Whether you have a small garden, several acres of land or even no garden at all, I hope that you will, like me, be captivated by the beauty of our green spaces and precious environment.


april2016blogUsing keywords to communicate your marketing message

Keeping pace with the ever changing social media world is a challenge for anyone. For businesses seeking a strong online presence it is extremely important to think about the words that you use in the stories that you wish to create.  This will help your business reach its’ target audience and communicate your marketing message. The best copywriting is content that is written naturally and is able to build a relationship with the reader but there are still guidelines which should be followed to maximise the impact of your work.

Type in “Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)” or “Keyword Optimisation” and you will be presented with many links to articles suggesting the best and most up-to-date ways of writing copy that guarantees engagement with the reader.  The way in which search engines scour the internet and index this data is a science in itself.  The purpose of this article is not to analyse this or to give you a quick and easy solution to copywriting … because in my mind, it doesn’t exist.

However, I believe there are some key principles that I always follow when I prepare some copy for a client or even for my own work which I wanted to share with you.

  1. Consider carefully the keywords that you use. Online readers are presented with a huge mass of information in their timelines and on their screens, so you need to make it easy for them if you want the person to read your article or post. Use a keyword in a heading and where appropriate in a sub-heading. There are online tools that you can use to measure and improve the readability of your marketing content one of which is Readability Score. I have used the site for this article and it tells me that this text should be easily read by college level education and upwards.  There are other sites available – choose one which works best for you.

  2. Understand the importance of meta descriptions: used extensively by Google. These are snippets of information which are below the link of a search result. Its purpose is to describe the contents of the page to the searcher: people scan web pages and do not read everything. To find out more see this article on the subject. It is always recommended that you use action-orientated language, provide a solution or benefit to the reader, make it as relevant as possible and around 160 characters in length.

  3. Write for your readers. Our brains are extremely powerful and a good copywriter will have the ability and creativity to write naturally. It’s always best to write in short sentences – this makes it easier to read and is also better for SEO.  It’s arguable that over the last few decades our attention span has become increasingly shorter, which is possibly why people enjoy clicking on links to other articles. Encourage your readers to do this but make sure it appears on a separate tab so that they stay on your site.

  4. The finish is as important as the end…. Obviously there will be people who only read a few sentences but don’t forget to include a Call to Action (CTA) which encourages them to do something: go onto your website, contact you or visit a Facebook page.

Which reminds me…  have you found this article useful? Let me know either way… I’m always happy to chat so if you’d like to talk further contact me at simon@hiboucommunication.com.

Tips for Writing Online Copy

Writing copy for online publications is one of the things that I love doing at Hibou and this month I thought I’d pass on a few tips on how to create great copy that people will want to read.

Over the past 18 months or so we have provided copy for websites, social media (Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter), professional White Papers and press releases.  This has included writing for all types of business, including those working in the fields of health, food, interior design, building trades, gardening supplies, financial services, estate agencies and more. On a personal level, I really enjoy working with such a variety of clients and helping them communicate their ideas, products and services to their target audience. Here are a few pointers to help you navigate your own way for writing online:-

  1. Digital isn’t print. The writing style is subtly different as is the reader experience. Research has found that people read more slowly online and indeed often read just a few sentences or a paragraph before moving on. Reading on screen is more tiring too. Because there is now so much information available at our fingers tip, the competition for our interest is vast.

  2. Generally speaking, people reading your article online are likely to be much more task focused, as opposed to sitting relaxing reading a book. You have to grab their attention, and keep it… Keep the content that you are writing as interesting and relevant to the person you are seeking to communicate with, otherwise they may lose interest.

  3. Be as succinct as possible. With Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) so important, search engines will not necessarily recognise your prosaic language (or even this sentence!) so keep it as simple and direct as possible.  Concise sentences are great too.

  4. People love clicking on links. This may be to explore related themes or to read about a topic more in depth. But make sure that they open a new tab so they return to your site easily. Online readers enjoy images too, so don’t make your content too dense with text.

  5. Originality is important. By all means use other sites to research your copy but never plagiarise. If you decide to use an article to support your argument include a link to the page. Wikipedia can be a useful source of reference but it can be wrong – verify any information that you use.

  6. Try and tell a story. It makes reading your online copy interesting – you can use your copy to take your reader through a journey, so to speak, so that the article has a clear beginning, middle and an end. Talking of ends, this blog needs to finish: so remember to finish with what marketers describe as a “Call To Action”, prompting the reader to do something: contact your business, buy online or read another link.

I hope you enjoyed this brief blog about online copywriting: we are passionate about it, but it’s a vast subject area so we’ll return to it again sometime soon. Contact me if you’d like to find out more about what Hibou Communication has to offer with regards to providing copy your audience will want to read – and help make your business a success.


It is not the critic that counts….

Ever since I can remember, I have loved history and from memory, this was always my favourite subject at school together with English literature and geography. I guess my favourite period is what would be considered to be modern history, and particularly the last 200 years or so especially with regard to historical events in Europe and the United States. 

One of these events that I recall studying as a 17 year old boy sixth former was the Spanish-American War of 1898 and a key figure in this conflict was one Theodore Roosevelt, later elected President in 1901, becoming the youngest person to hold office at the age at 42. To describe Roosevelt as a colourful character is perhaps an understatement; in his day, he was a progressive politician, a strong believer in conservation (which led to the creation of five National Parks), bird and games reserves; suspicious of the power of big business, an advocate of controls on harmful chemicals in food; and had a general belief in the importance of treating people fairly. Of course, not all of Roosevelt’s views would find support these days (including mine), but as a man of his time he is both interesting and worthy of respect. You may also know that the “teddy bear”, a figure beloved by children everywhere, is named after this fascinating American politician.

I was reminded of Roosevelt this month, whilst working for a colleague who is currently seeking election to lead a professional association, providing copywriting and social media support. In one of the blogs, Martin had quoted from Theodore Roosevelt, with a speech intended to inspire others to get involved and be prepared to stand up for themselves for what they consider to be the right course of action.  I thought it worth repeating in my blog today because it is often tempting to criticise those who take a stand or a position with which we disagree; this is relatively easy to do. But life should be about taking chances, giving our opinion, and, yes, seeking to make the world a better place. Here it is in full:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. 

Whatever projects you are working on, or maybe a personal battle you are fighting, I wish you bon courage and remember, never let a critic dissuade you from “throwing your hat into the ring”…


stewart“I know what I'm gonna do tomorrow, and the next day..."

“I know what I'm gonna do tomorrow, and the next day, and the next year, and the year after that.”

SO SAYS George Bailey, the principal character in the film It’s a Wonderful Life, a beautiful film starring James Stewart which I watched again over the Christmas break.

And what a timely reminder it was, about what can be achieved by one man and his team, who seek to achieve good in the community, helping people to make a reality of their dreams and enjoy their lives at a time of austerity. That’s not to say that there weren’t any challenges featured in this early post-war film; greedy speculators, and less reputable lenders, a run on the banks, and a time of deep economic uncertainty. Plus ça change, I guess! But in the end, Bailey came through, helped by his family, friends and people within the community – and although the film ended at that point, maybe in real life the Baileys of this world did eventually leave Bedford Falls to achieve his other dreams, and fulfil their desires to see the world and take on new projects.

New years are all about setting goals and objectives. If we wish to succeed, having a clear strategy, and not just an individual set of aims, is crucial.

Undoubtedly no one knows what will happen tomorrow, the next day, or indeed the next year; but as we start work in another new year, let us develop the focus to be clear in our goal setting, have the energy and determination to succeed, and maybe even benefit from the occasional element of good luck and fortune...

Have a great 2016.


  • December
  • November
  • October
  • September
  • August
  • July
  • June
  • May
  • April
  • March
  • February
  • January

It is Paris, 1890. The Eiffel Tower has recently opened and a year previously, a snow globe containing a model of the Tower had been produced to commemorate an international exhibition in the city. Emile and his mother Celestine prepare for Christmas and the arrival of Saint Nicholas, but her son has just one wish f0r the festive period.

A Christmas Wish
THE street lights of the Avenue de l'Opéra in Paris shone brightly against the clear night sky, the grand buildings standing confident and tall in this attractive and prosperous part of the city. The weather had been exceptionally cold in the city for two long weeks now but despite this the streets thronged with people visiting the many cafés, restaurants and shops in the district.  Normally Emile would need some persuasion to venture outside with his mother to go shopping because of the bitter and icy temperatures, but both of them were wrapped up warm from head to toe in order to brave the winter chill. And today the 6th December, was a very special one – The Feast of Saint Nicholas.

For children across France the arrival of Saint Nicholas signalled the beginning of festivities commencing at Advent and lasting until Christmas Day. The aroma of sweet and spicy gingerbread biscuits wafted onto the streets from the many boulangeries still open; their tasty breads and patisseries tempting children and adults alike. For any 10 year old boy Christmas was indeed a magical one and although Emile’s father had died when he was just a small child, his mother Celestine had always tried to make this time a joyful occasion for them both.

Every year Emile was promised a visit to a Christmas market, a treat that he looked forward to many weeks before, as the days grew shorter and the nights became long. Emile loved to wander amongst the many stalls bedecked with their twinkly lights, Nativity figurines, cheeses, hams and ornate gifts. As he grew older, his mother was gradually allowing Emile the freedom to explore the shops and markets in their neighbourhood by himself and it was not long before he had taken a detour, weaving amongst the busy crowd of people.

Emile stopped at one stall which to the left had a covered tent with a curtain partially covering an entrance. Emile needed to satisfy his inquisitive mind and slowly pulled back the cloth, gingerly stepping inside.  As he did so, his eyes widened with wonder and amazement, Emile had entered what could only be described as a grotto with tables full of toys, puzzles and games. The tent was illuminated with paraffin lamps located around the four corners, creating sufficient brightness to appreciate each of the different items. There was however one item which caught Emile’s attention in particular: a snow globe with the gleaming and newly built Eiffel Tower as its’ centre piece. Clasping the snow globe firmly with both hands, Emile shook it and smiled as the ornament came to life with the flakes gently descending inside the glass. At that moment, the boy heard his mother calling him and he knew that it was time to go. Before placing the snow globe back onto the table with its’ rich, green textured fabric, Emile decided to make a wish and after doing so he ran out of the tent and after no time at all, he was walking alongside his mother again for the journey home, excited by his discovery.

The family lived in a tall, four storey apartment close by to the Jardin des Tuileries so popular with Parisians. Celestine departed quickly down the stairs to the kitchen to prepare some hot and warming soup for them both, asking Emile to light a fire in the living room. Before pushing open the door, Emile hesitated; exactly why he couldn’t be sure. But after a few seconds he walked into the room and could scarcely believe what he saw. His grandfather was sitting in an armchair by the roaring fire, seemingly asleep with a glass of red wine and a neatly folded copy of the journal Le Petit Parisien on a side table.  Emile almost tip-toed the final paces before reaching his grandfather, who had died two years previously to the day. As he reached out his arm to touch his long grey and white beard, the old man awoke and smiled broadly, hoisting the boy onto his lap. Emile laid his head on his grandfather’s chest, already warmed by his embrace and feeling as safe and snug as he had never felt before. Neither spoke at first but the love and affection between them spoke volumes.

After a few minutes, the pair started to talk and over the next half an hour or so, Henri Lacoste shared with his grandson details of his life as an architect and his happy and long marriage to Isabelle, things which Emile had been too young to know about before he had died.

Their conversation flowed, Emile bemused as to whether the situation was for real, but still he was happy. As the clock struck 7pm, Celestine called out to her son to come to the dining room, their dinner was ready and waiting. Emile gave his grandfather another big hug and said he must go to his mother to tell her the news and ask her to set the table for 3 people. “I won’t be long, grand-père” Emile said lovingly.

Emile ran out of the door and then realised that he had forgotten his winter coat and cap, quickly returning to the living room to fetch them. As he re-entered the room, the armchair was now empty, the fire was cold and unlit and there was no wine, and no newspaper on the table.   
He felt instantly sad, but after a short while his mind became full of joyful thoughts and memories. Even if for a few brief moments in time, Emile’s Christmas Wish had come true.      

I ALWAYS enjoy writing these monthly blogs; they are a precious opportunity – and indeed I regard it as a privilege – to communicate my thoughts on topics and themes which interest me… and most important of all, I feel may be of curiosity or benefit to my readers.

Today has been more difficult to think about the world of business as a result of the awful and tragic events in Paris last Friday night. But as we reflect upon the suffering in the Parisian streets on that sad November 13th, each of us hoping for a brighter, better and more peaceful future, it is critically important that we continue to live our lives to the full and do the things that we do best, or simply enjoy… which brings me back to the original subject of today’s blog: writing a journal.

Who writes a daily journal nowadays? Well I do for one, even if I confess that I don’t necessarily write an entry for every day of the week. Journals differ from diaries (electric or paper…) which record daily appointments, although people will often refer to keeping a diary for writing about their lives. Journals are a great way of capturing our thoughts, feelings, reflections and observations on a particular day in time. They can also be positive to our mental health; writing our thoughts on paper can be a great way of allowing a release of our frustration and negative energy.

Some of the best writing over the centuries has featured in journals.

One of the most celebrated diarists in the English language is without doubt Samuel Pepys who maintained a private diary or journal for around 10 years, providing us with great insights into a period which included the Great Fire of London as well as the restoration of the Monarchy in the 17th century. Pepys’ writing is noted for its’ candid and accurate observation of the age and is used by many historians to this day. In our more contemporary history, the late politician Tony Benn is well known for his prolific writing during his decades in Parliament as a MP and Cabinet Minister.  Benn was notable for the assiduous way in which he recorded daily events, giving his personal opinions freely whilst often sharing the thoughts of his political colleagues and opponents.  Regardless as to whether you agree with Benn or not, his diaries are invaluable to historians interested in British politics of the late 20th century. On a more sombre note, Anne Frank’s Diaries will forever be a testament to the suffering experienced during the Nazi occupation by one teenage girl and her family in occupied Holland.

So why keep a journal? You may not be looking to repeat the literary style of a Pepys or Benn, but journals are ideal for collecting information about the day, interesting or amusing anecdotes or recording particular emotions or even facts which we wish to retain for future reference. They allow us to reflect and think about the world around us and for those who enjoy creative writing, can even provide inspiration.

It’s not necessary to start a private journal on the 1st January … I first started writing in a journal regularly in November 2007, and during that time I have amassed a decent collection of black, hard backed books which hopefully will last many years into the future.

In our digital age, it is arguably unfashionable to commit our thoughts to paper but that doesn’t make journal writing any less valuable. Why not start a journal today?


WHY should you write a marketing plan for your business?  For many busy business owners, finding the time and energy to prepare a plan which sets out the clear goals and objectives of your enterprise is sometimes extremely difficult. Running any business generally involves juggling a variety of tasks and priorities which can often result in leaving the writing of a marketing strategy stuck in the pending tray.

The impact of digital technology has clearly had a major impact on the marketing profession and how marketers can assist businesses to reach their financial and sales targets. However even in the digital age there is still a need for face –to-face discussion and dare I say it – brainstorming – which is why a workshop (whether it involves two, three or more people…) continues to have its’ place in my book.

One of the things that I most enjoy about working with clients is when we meet as part of a marketing workshop, reviewing each element of the company’s marketing plan and discussing ideas and agreeing new priorities to help grow the business. It’s true that I have always loved learning about different business, charitable and commercial sectors, which is probably why my career has been fairly eclectic embracing financial services, health and housing. In recent years I have also become involved in other sectors such as entertainment & leisure, tourism and social care services in the UK. So listening to business owners explain what they do and what they are seeking to achieve – and then help guide them with practical and affordable marketing solutions -  is for me one of the reasons that I established Hibou Communication.

It is of course important to shape the agenda of any marketing workshop to the requirements of the business, so whether it is undertaking a review of the current brand, looking in depth at the marketing operations, how to manage social media communications, agreeing a pricing strategy or coming up with a promotional plan – I relish the opportunity to provide my input and direction. If specialist advice is needed then of course we know a man – or a woman – who can!

The world of business is forever changing which makes it exciting and daunting at times, but it also has to be enjoyable and even fun from time-to-time. Please feel free to give us a call to discuss or email simon@hiboucommunication.com .

Enjoy the rest of the month.

A Step Back In Time

ONE of my favourite ever plays is An Inspector Calls. I have it seen performed at the theatre, as a film (with the delightful Alistair Sim in the lead role) and last weekend on television in the new BBC adaptation. Written by JB Priestley and first performed to audiences in 1945, the play has enjoyed a renaissance in recent years and is in my view, a brilliant critique of attitudes and values in early Edwardian society. The timing of its’ showing on UK television, within a few hours of the election of a new Labour leader with views arguably similar to Priestley’s, is either excellent timing or a fascinating coincidence…

Watching the play inspired me to find out more about Priestley’s other published works, and it transpires that he had a particular interest in the concept of time, resulting in his writing at least five so-called “time plays”. Another much-loved film of mine is A Wonderful Life which centres upon the lead character (George Bailey) reflecting how life for his family, friends and community would have been very different without him, as he prepares to end his life on a bitterly cold winter’s day. Priestley takes the fate of an individual as his theme but writes from a different angle in Johnson over Johnson, in which a businessman is forced to review his life after his death before he can be at peace. If you would like to find out more about the playwright JB Priestley there is a link to a website here.

Of course, there are many examples of interesting and inspiring creative writing which covers the topic of time, time travel and related matters, with Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and HG Wells’ The Time Machine amongst the most famous from the 19th century.  More recently, contemporary fiction includes the work of Audrey Niffenegger who wrote The Time Traveler’s Wife released as a book over ten years ago and later shown at the cinemas, telling the story of a man with a genetic disorder who is able to time travel in an unpredictable way. And finally, only two years ago, Bill Nighy (what a wonderful actor he is) gives a typically engaging and entertaining performance in About Time, as a man who introduces his son to the fact that all of the male family members are able to travel through time. I am sure we must have all been in those situations in which we would have wanted to turn back the clock and do things differently…?

Undoubtedly people will always be attracted to reading about time travel, perhaps because it is able to liberate our minds from the current world that we live in and causes us to question how we would have approached situations that our forebears experienced. Equally, having the ability to travel into the future is either something which we find scary or is a tantalising prospect; an opportunity to take a glimpse into how our lives and the world have changed – for better or for worse?

Have a great Autumn.


GABRIEL LECOMTE enjoyed spending Sunday mornings visiting the local brocantes (or flea markets) in his native Normandy, content to pass the time browsing the various stalls selling furniture, books, crockery, glassware and all kinds of different household items. Today was perfect: the sun was shining with a cooling, gentle breeze and the market was buzzing with a mix of tourists, locals and traders. Like the majority of people visiting the market that day, few would leave without buying anything at, but for Gabriel it was a pleasurable and relaxing activity which passed the time and enabled him to switch off from thinking about work as a council officer in his local Mairie. After almost 20 years’ form filling and processing planning applications of every description, Gabriel relished the chance to escape from what he considered to be the monotony of the office, relaxed and content in his own company; yet he was also able to mix and chat easily with the locals and stall-holders who he had come to know very well over the years.

Today the brocante was perhaps busier than normal as a result of the Summer holidays. Parents attempted to escort their brood around the mélange of stalls, the children attracted by the colourful comics featuring characters loved by generations but now largely forgotten. Gabriel preferred to walk at a leisurely pace from stall to stall, starting from the outer tables until reaching the heart of the market. The pride of place was always reserved for Monsieur Auffray and his eclectic collection and he was renowned for playing stirring music such as la chanson française on his vintage gramophone. This was a great way of attracting the crowds, thought Gabriel.

The three-story old townhouse near the centre of Prévanches in the Manche department held many fond memories for Gabriel; it was the home of five generations of the Lecomte family, one of the few buildings which survived the Allied advance and bombardment of Normandy during the dark days of the Second World War. Since the death of his mother, Gabriel had decided to resist the temptation to sell and buy a smaller property; the plentiful space enabling him to acquire pieces of objets d’art and furniture which now occupied his home.

One of Gabriel’s passions was music, particularly the mandolin; whenever he saw or heard this beautiful string instrument, his mind was stirred by the performances of Don Giovanni in Mozart’s classic opera, recalling the scene in which Giovanni serenaded his maid with the mandolin.

As he approached Madame Gilet’s tidy stall, the thick greyish-white cloth displaying a range of pieces including tastefully decorated serving spoons, flower vases and other items, Gabriel’s eye was attracted to a small, ornate inlaid wooden box. It was probably made of walnut, Gabriel thought, which at first glance appeared to be in near-perfect condition: the rich brown varnish bringing to life the centre piece of the box, the mandolin instrument.

Gabriel picked up and held the small trinket, carefully inspecting the exterior of the exquisite little box. It was rare for him to make a purchase after such a short period of time; often he would find a piece that he liked, enquire as to the asking price before continuing to carry on walking around the market sometimes returning to the same table for further reflection.  But not today. His mind was made up, and trying not to give away too much to the vendor as to his intentions, Gabriel asked “Combien, Madame?” “20 Euros Monsieur,” the stall-holder responded immediately. “Vendu,” replied Gabriel, as on this occasion he did not feel the need at all to haggle for a lower price. The box was just right.

Later that afternoon, Gabriel placed the newly acquired piece onto his kitchen table to examine the wooden box in more detail, happy with the purchase he had made that day. He removed the lid and begun to cautiously explore the inside, running his index finger along the inner base. Gabriel noticed that there was a tiny gap around the edge of the wood, indicating that maybe it had been removed or replaced previously. Inquisitive by nature, Gabriel took a card that he had collected from a local restaurant he had visited that lunchtime and gently lifted the bottom of the trinket and put it to one side on the table.

At the bottom of the trinket a piece of yellowing paper was revealed, folded tightly several times. Gabriel proceeded to un-wrap the paper and after a few seconds laid onto the table the hand-written note in French and read aloud to himself its’ contents:

If you find me, I am yours;
 Share with me your memories and your mementoes
And I will keep these safe and secure.
Be ever generous in spirit
And thankful for the health and happiness of yourself and your family.
Treasure me now, as you do so into the future.
Yvette Lecomte, April 1965

Gabriel sat back into his chair, astonished at the beautifully scripted words from his late mother.

This petit wooden box had returned home.

THIS MONTH we were fortunate to see the competitors from Le Tour de France cycle their way at great speed through the village of Le Loroux in nearby Brittany, en route to Fougères to complete the latest stage of this historic race. Watching all the riders cycle powerfully down the hill was an incredible sight, a colourful spectacle and well worth the wait.

Without doubt, Le Tour de France is one of the most significant sporting events in the international calendar, and given the popularity of cycling in both the UK and France it’s easy to see why it is such an attractive prospect for companies to associate their brands with this iconic festival. For around two hours preceding the arrival of the cycling teams, there is a procession of what the French refer to as caravanes, which are vehicles that are bedecked in the colours of their sponsors and often have an impressive mascot accompanying them….  As the caravanes drive through each town and village, the support teams on each vehicle will cheerily be handing out (or throwing out, to be precise!) various items of merchandise which at least keeps the children happy and amused.

What is the value of sponsoring Le Tour? For marketers, it can sometimes be a challenge to assess the financial return from becoming involved in this type of venture but for me there are benefits for both the communities that participate and for the companies that are official sponsors. The cost of hosting the departure or arrival of Le Tour de France can be extremely significant, around €100,000+ for a stage finish or less for a départ. However the price paid by the big cities, Paris and London included, will be much, much more. But almost certainly the benefits will outweigh the costs; for example, there will of course be the additional revenue that tourists visiting each village and town will bring as they eat in local cafés, restaurants and shop in supermarkets; and perhaps almost of equal importance, the hosting of such an event will strengthen community bonds and aid local pride. This will give real long-term benefits. For individual businesses, the global reach of Le Tour in terms of television, press and the internet offers a superb chance to promote specific brands for an event that appeals to all ages, young and old, male and female.

It has to be acknowledged that in recent years Le Tour de France and indeed other cycling events and cyclists have courted with controversy as a result of drugs allegations which have tarnished the image and reputation of the sport. But in spite of this, Le Tour retains its’ appeal as a sporting event par excellence and for that reason it will continue to be supported by the public and attract investment from business and towns and villages across Europe.

At the time of writing, two of my favourite cities – Portsmouth and its’ twin city of Caen, Normandy – are preparing a bid to host a Grand Départ of Le Tour de France in 2018 (or why not opt for 2019, the 75th anniversary of Le débarquement in 1944?). This would be a fantastic celebration for both cities – and countries. Bonne Chance mes amies !  

THIS MONTH it was confirmed that the famous Parisien bookshop La Hune had closed its’ doors for the final time, a result of being unable to trade and balance its’ own books. La Hune was the famed meeting place for French intellectuals such as Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and Albert Camus for more than 60 years and inevitably it is sad to see any bookshop close.

In the UK over a period of eight years between 2005 and 2013 the number of bookshops reduced by one-third, as people increasingly moved to buy books on-line. There has also been, of course, a shift from paper to digital reading with the advent of Kindles and other forms of electronic publishing, which has created additional pressure on independent traders and even larger bookstores.

Does the bookshop have a future? I recently came across an interesting article which suggested that bookshops needed not just a rebrand to survive and compete, but instead they needed to adopt a more fundamental approach. The publication engaged the services of several architectural practices each of whom was briefed to come up with a new vision for the sector; and the collective view of the architects was that design alone will not be sufficient.  Their opinion was that the future bookshop will need to understand and to anticipate the customer’s every type of literary need. This could mean buying a paperback or a download, being able to relax whilst reading the latest Dan Brown epic, facilitating access to self-publishing services, book clubs, author events or even – the author of this feature suggests – the bookish equivalent of a flotation tank. I’m not sure about that one! But hopefully you get the picture. To read the full article click here.

As someone who provides services in this new social media-driven, digital marketing era, it is not my intention to suggest that we should resist the trend towards electronic publishing away from paper. Far from it. I hugely enjoy copywriting for clients, preparing my blogs and posting content on various social media outlets. But print – magazines, books, newspapers, newsletters – will always offer real benefits to readers; research for example has consistently demonstrated the aid that reading the printed word gives to a person’s mental health, providing opportunities for rest and relaxation. I consume a considerable amount of information on-line for the work that I do as well as to plan leisure time, but I still subscribe to print magazines which I find enjoyable, informative and interesting: being able to pick up at any point in the comfort of our conservatory, garden or sitting room without the need to use the computer or tablet.

Happy reading: whether you choose to do this on-line or on print….

irisHIBOU COMMUNICATION has recently won a number of contracts to create and manage social media sites for clients. Working for a varied range of clients, this has enabled me to think about the relative importance of words and images. Over the last couple of years there have been articles directed at marketers about how to rise to the challenge in which consumers increasingly respond to pictures and other visual images as opposed to text.

Whether the business is selling food and drink, garden products, financial services, interior design or is related to property, in each case the selection of a good quality, powerful visual image is incredibly important. One excellently taken photograph is however not just the end product; it must over a period of time result in customers associating your brand with a quality offer to create loyalty and ultimately increase your business’ sales and turnover.

As someone who enjoys writing, and the process of thinking and writing copy both for my own website and others, this does pose a test as well as providing a fantastic opportunity. The test is to compose copy in a way which is both concise and interesting, encouraging the on-line reader to follow the page and like my posts. The opportunity arises with the great way in which social media allows posts to be shared, reaching hundreds and even thousands of people in a short space of time. And it is so much simpler than printing thousands of flyers and brochures….

The growth in social media, with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest et al gives a huge number of openings to businesses to not only showcase their products and services but to create a “storyline” of images and photos that appeals to people enjoying a range of lifestyles and interests.

Technology is of course aiding the increasing use of photo images, with most mobiles capable of taking very good quality pictures. This in turn is helpful as it provides chances to develop a comprehensive photo library of images which are free to use, supplementing the use of sites such as pixabay.com. I am also fortunate that my wife is an excellent photographer with a canny eye for a picture, so we are building up our own collection rapidly.
chickenIt will be especially interesting to see whether this trend for images to be increasingly used to market products to the consumer continues, including the use of videos which I’ve not even referred to in this month’s blog. What do you think?

What is essential to remember, though, is that words are still necessary and a crucial element to marketing… a subject I shall return to on another occasion.

Thanks for reading.

booksTHE BIBLIOPHILES amongst us – those people who love books – will of course be aware that on Thursday 23rd April it is World Book Night, an annual celebration of reading that is now increasingly popular in the UK and Ireland.

I’ve written before about some of the authors, books and writing styles that I enjoy and have influenced me during my life. Given the connection this month with the World Book Night event it seemed appropriate to consider again how important books, e-books and reading are to providing leisure and relaxation as well as being a key source of our education through self-learning.

Without doubt, over the centuries books have played perhaps the major role in communicating ideas, beliefs and values – often for good reasons, sometimes not (I’m thinking of texts which spread intolerance and hatred of others with different faiths, religions, political views or beliefs for example).  Generally though books are read by the majority of us to simply provide an opportunity to take time out from our everyday lives, maybe escape into a different world whether this is the latest adventure thriller by authors such as Dan Brown (I’m finally reading The Da Vinci Code…), a romantic novel or maybe a short story collection.

moleOne of my favourite authors and books is Sue Townsend, who sadly died a year ago this month. Townsend created Adrian Mole, a character who was first introduced to us as a teenager in The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾ but over the next decade or so we were able to follow Mole’s transition from a young boy to a man, his political views, his seemingly unsuccessful career and of course his love interest with Pandora Braithwaite. I first read the book when it was published in 1982 and having just turned 18 and interested in politics, the themes pursued by Townsend and reflected in Mole’s family and friends captured my imagination. The Mole books were adapted for both radio and TV and there cannot be many people who grew up in the 1980s who haven’t heard of this funny and thought-provoking fictional personality. Townsend was also successful in using her sharp political antennae to write other books which described the mood of the UK during the later Blair years, the comic novel Number Ten being another favourite. I don’t agree with Townsend’s political views but I respect and enjoy her writing hugely.

If you are participating in World Book Night – and indeed there will be many events taking place that day – I hope you enjoy… you are helping to spread interest, passion and a love of reading which remains extremely important in a world in which short sound bites and visual images dominate our thinking and culture.

Happy reading!

FIFTEEN months after moving to France I have become familiar with an increasing number of French businesses – large, medium or small – and how they approach the marketing of their enterprises. During this time I have started to work with local companies to assist them with their business and marketing plans and as a customer have used the products and services of a variety of businesses in the area. So this month I thought that I would talk about some of my favourite examples of businesses which demonstrate excellent customer service and in the process are creating strong marketing brands that differentiate themselves from the competition. Two are from France, one from the UK.

My first choice is Leroy Merlin, a home improvement and garden retailer which is French owned but now trades in a number of countries across the continent. UK based readers will be familiar with B&Q and Homebase which can be very good, but what I like about Leroy Merlin is the fact that there is excellent customer service, demonstrated by knowledgeable staff who work in specific areas of the store (e.g. tiling, garden equipment, bathrooms etc.). The layout of the shops is clean and well lit and generally my experience has been when I needed help, I could find an assistant who could either cope with my French or speak English…. Furthermore for on-line purchases the site is easy to navigate and shop. The brand that Leroy Merlin has created emphasises the importance of being able to enjoy your home and your life; without doubt they have impressed with their quality and value for money and to date have lived up to expectations.

Being able to stand out from your competitors can be challenging for the best of businesses, but given the number of bakers – boulangeries – which trade in every village and high street  across France, it remains crucial. Of course, the French love their bread, croissants, cakes and patisseries and we visit our local boulangeries most days.  Arguably one of my favourites is the Boulangerie Lecluze in our nearby town of Saint-Hilaire-du-Harcouët. Why? They produce not only lovely bread, the gorgeous smell enticing you into the shop before you know it, but also work with another local company Sauveurs du Maine – an artisan butcher and charcuterie – showing how complementary and quality products can be delivered to the consumer. Both are examples of strong, independent local brands which again provide excellence in customer service.

My third and final company that I have chosen is based in the UK – Waterstones. Now it has to be said that being a bookseller, especially in Britain with the colossal strength of Amazon, is not the easiest of existences. In recent years Waterstones has lost money as more and more people shop on-line but in my view, it remains a good and reliable destination for buying books and other items (such as when I am looking for a special gift), with excellent customer service, knowledgeable staff – and in a pleasant, relaxed environment. Great coffee and chocolate tiffins too! In my book, the Waterstones brand has remained strong because they not only sell what people want to read, but also enable you to browse and search for what you want, without hassle… something some clothes shops could learn from!

Excellence in customer service; a knowledgeable, well-trained salesforce; and investment in the product, service and delivery. These are three of the main ingredients for success in my view, to help your company create a strong company brand that marks you out from other businesses in the market place.

Enjoy the Spring!

FEBRUARY represents the first anniversary since I set up Hibou Communication. I created the company last year to help people with the development of their businesses and to offer a variety of marketing services including social media management. Above all, one of the things that I felt is often less understood is the need for interesting, good quality written content for websites, newsletters and print publications. So one year on, with new French and English clients and projects under my belt, it seems opportune to consider some of the writing and literary influences in my life and why I do what I do…. and how businesses can ensure that they attract more people to read about their work.

Of course the earliest  inspirations for the majority of people will come from family and only recently I discussed with my Mum how she enjoyed writing and even wrote a children’s storybook many years ago – so far unpublished! I guess I have inherited my love of the written word from her. At school, I also remember my English school teacher during my early teens, a Mr Podmore who encouraged me and gave me a love of literature. Mind you I never did fully get to grips with the reading and comprehension of Alexander Pope’s Rape of the Lock, described as a mock-heroic poem which tells the story of an incident which in reality is a storm in a teacup… the works of Dorset author Thomas Hardy (Mayor of Casterbridge in particular) were of much greater interest.

Over the years since then I have continued to enjoy reading fiction and non-fiction. One of my earliest ambitions was to be a journalist and although I never fulfilled that aim, I have made up for it by reading a wide range of news publications – originally on paper but in the world that we now live in, mostly on-line. Journalism has been in the news itself during the past decade but arguably not for the right reasons, with the profession sometimes being placed in the dock for misrepresentation – or worse. However there continue to be fine examples of good journalists who can communicate in print and via other media such as TV and radio, amongst my choices are Michael Cockerell (a political commentator/journalist, whose current BBC programme Inside The Commons is excellent) and the Independent’s diplomatic reporter Robert Fisk.

It’s important to remember that people read to be entertained, to be informed or even sometimes to be challenged in their thinking. With so much content being placed onto the internet, it’s tempting to go for quantity over quality or even to be quite prescriptive in the language used to ensure that a business or article is placed higher up the Google rankings. All of these things may be necessary to a large degree, but ultimately for me it is better to write in a way which is honest and represents the best that you can deliver, whether it is a blog, a longer feature article or another piece of creative writing.  

This is a subject which I could write about for much longer! But I will finish by inviting you to let me know what has influenced you most in your appreciation of our literary/entertainments world, whether this is a favourite author, journalist or broadcaster. Send me an email simon@hiboucommunication.com and I will share your thoughts on the Hibou Communication Facebook page.    

ONE OF the joys of marketing for me comes from sitting down with clients to listen to their thoughts and ideas, gaining a good understanding of what motivated them to establish their business – and explaining how I can help make their dreams a reality. Over the years I have particularly enjoyed workshops with colleagues which has enabled us to step back from the day-to-day running of the business and collectively share our ideas, establishing a clear strategy and pathway for the future. Marketing is often wrongly misinterpreted as being largely about the marketing adverts which create the visual images that form in our minds, with the objective of persuading us to buy in to a company brand or product. But in my mind, the secret to a successful marketing campaign can be unlocked by thinking quite hard about every element of the business: for example the service that is to be marketed, the target customers, the pricing strategy, the marketing materials to be used and so on.

Last autumn I started the first of my series of Marketing Workshops with Tina Starks of Cadres, a retail business based here in the nearby Mayenne region which undertakes furniture restoration, picture framing, postcards and a range of other services for both French and English clients. It was great to work with Tina to shape her plans for 2015 and it was great to receive her lovely feedback. If you would like further information about the two hour Marketing Workshops (which can cost as little as €50) please give me a call.  

On a different subject, this year is going to be marked by projects organised by the Franco-British Chamber of Commerce and Sud Manche CCI to encourage and help Normandy businesses to export to the UK and Channel Islands. There will be a range of events including a Golf Day “Business on the Green” on 27 June at the Bréville-sur-Mer course near Granville. Not to be missed! Contact me at simon@hiboucommunication.com if you are interested. Despite the extremely close proximity between our two countries (Portsmouth is closer to Cherbourg in miles than to London….admittedly you need a ferry crossing, boat or you need to swim very well!) there are many more opportunities which businesses on both sides of the channel could be pursuing. Hopefully by this time next year many companies will have taken steps to grow their business through exporting to the UK’s largest market, the European Union, with French colleagues also enjoying the benefits of trading with their closest overseas partner.

Have a great year.  

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This month’s blog is a short story for Christmas and is dedicated to all those who those who lost their lives during the conflict in Normandy in 1944

CAPTAIN James Corby (retired) straightened his tie, buttoned up first his jacket then his overcoat to protect against the winter frost which was already biting on that cold Christmas Eve. The elderly American soldier had arrived that morning in the quaint Normandy village of Betteville-sur-Mer, the wide sandy beaches a poignant reminder of his last visit 70 years previously in June 1944.

Deciding to make the trip for the first and probably only time in over seven decades had been a difficult decision for James; former comrades had encouraged him to attend the annual reunions to commemorate D-Day of course, but the passage of time had not dulled the pain he had experienced from the bloodshed that resulted the moment their platoon’s boat landed on French shores.  After his wife Jeannie had died in the previous year however, James resolved to make a special effort in what was surely going to be the final remembrance of D-Day with veterans joined by younger generations who had never suffered the horrors of war.

The veteran officer from the United States Army opened the door and waited patiently at the reception of the small hotel where he was staying. The hotel owner Madame Guillot greeted James warmly, showing the great courtesy and respect that he had already come to expect since his arrival. “Monsieur, of course we have reserved our very best room for you; we are honoured by your visit and we hope that you will join my husband and I for an aperitif this evening, oui?” said Madame Guillot.

“Yes, that would be mighty kind of you Ma’am but I do have another engagement this evening, so I will only be able to stay for a short while,” replied James. “That’s agreed then; shall we say 6.30 in the hotel lounge. Perhaps I will find some beer for you?” suggested Madame Guillot. “No, pastis will be fine, just fine,” James said with a gentle smile. “Pastis it is! Bonne Journée, Monsieur.”

James enjoyed a happy hour indeed with his hosts, the warmth of their hospitality persuading him to drink a couple of glasses of the misty coloured liquor. As he savoured each glass, memories from times gone by filled his mind. Monsieur Guillot would not hear of James having to walk the short distance from the hotel to the slate coloured and imposing granite church that was the venue for the American’s next destination, and consequently the hotel owner’s son Sébastien drove him the 400 metres or so. Although still physically fit for his age, James was aware that sufficient years had now passed by, which required him to accept offers of this kind that only ten years’ ago he would have politely declined.

At 7.45pm exact, James and Sébastien arrived at the doors of the church, both men seemingly uncomfortable albeit for different reasons. For Sébastien, his visits were strictly for weddings, baptisms and funerals only; for James, an opportunity to come to terms with events years before. James pushed open the heavy doors, firm in his intent but lacking the strength of his faded youth. The church was silent and still, but retained the faint musty smell of incense from an earlier service.

With a few further steps, the pair moved into the body of the church, the altar clear in their sight and the pews empty but well-worn from a century of worship: in times of war, peace, prosperity and hardship. Sébastien sensed that he should leave to allow James to be alone, but as he turned to leave the older man grasped his wrist firmly, no words were needed to communicate his wish.

James then stopped, standing confidently in spite of his relative infirmity. In front of him was a simple plaque. James’ French was very limited, but after a few brief moments he gently encouraged Sébastien to come forward to translate the short description, which read:

In memory of Beatrice Lebeurrier, a citizen of Betteville-sur-Mer who died serving the country she was proud of, waiting for the man that she was in love with. Born 21 April 1925, Died 23 December 1944. RIP.

James remained upright; his memories flooding back to that fateful day when he had heard that Beatrice had been gravely wounded in a German air attack over the village. James had been due to return to France after Christmas, but instead served the remaining days of his service at home. As a tear slid silently down his cheek, James reflected on the past: sad for the life that he had not lived but grateful for the happiness he had experienced throughout his 89 years.

The journey that had started from his home in New England in April 1944 had finally been completed.

STARTING a business has always been an attractive option to launch an innovative new product or service or for those people who simply wish to be their own boss. It certainly isn’t new either, as the history of enterprise has plenty of examples of individuals setting up on their own and being hugely successful. But perhaps when we do think of great business leaders who have started up in their front rooms or garages (e.g. the Bill Gates and Richard Bransons of this world) , we can sometimes be discouraged by thinking that it is necessary to create the next exciting type of new technology or an iconic brand such as Virgin to make money. But that is not the case. Starting a business won’t suit everyone of course, but it could be an appropriate opportunity for you. As we head towards the end of 2014 and another New Year awaits, it’s a good time to think about whether you could create a start-up venture too.

This year my wife and I have started-up three separate businesses and in my previous career I helped a number of new start-up businesses gain access to funding and investment as well as providing advice and guidance to young entrepreneurs.  I’m still learning but I’ve gained a fair amount of experience along the way which I am happy to share.
Here’s my take then on the key things that you should consider in creating a start-up. It’s not a comprehensive list by any means – and there is a wealth of information out there on the web or from agencies that will be able to help you, often for free – but I hope you find it useful.

  • What are you seeking to sell, and what makes it different? The world is a competitive place and chances are that there will be plenty of people advertising a product similar to yours. But don’t be discouraged; competition is healthy and the fact that there are others competing with you proves that there is a market place and potential demand. Think carefully about how you can differentiate your product/service, communicate its’ key benefits (not just the features) to your customers and identify your ‘niche’. Remember quality not quantity is most important.
  • Where are you trying to sell and to whom? Often a critical business decision will be to decide where to locate your enterprise and distribution network. Geography is important, in terms of access to suppliers as well as customers. But the internet has also made it easier for many start-up businesses – so of equal importance is an understanding as to who you are targeting; undertake your market research, think about how to make new contacts and expand your network. Knowing who to sell to is as crucial as what you are selling.
  • Communicate, Communicate, Communicate: Customers – and suppliers – will find it extremely frustrating if you do not communicate, either with email, phone or simply face to face ! We live busy lives: but it’s no excuse to let people down by failing to keep them informed even if you have a problem, for example. The best businesses will always communicate effectively with their clients whatever the situation.
  • Crunch your numbers! One of the major reasons why start-ups fail is that they do not manage their cash flow and do not get to grips with the financing and accounting of their business. I have seen many examples of enterprises that receive investment and end up using their capital for day to day living, not running their operations. Don’t make the same mistake…. Keep a separate list of your business expenses and be prepared to explain your business plan to a potential investor.

So there you go. There are plenty of other things that you need to consider – the legal structure of your business, potential collaborations and partnerships – but that’s for another day. Or blog! If you want to discuss your new business idea or venture, need help with your business or marketing plan, or simply wish to chat things through… we will be pleased to hear from you. Good luck.

LAUNCHING any type of new project or business is exciting, often challenging but usually always interesting.  It is probably fair to say that there is no sure-fire solution to ensuring that you will be successful in what you are setting out to do but to give yourself the best possible chance to meet your goals there are some steps that you can take that will help.  Whether it is a new job, creating a start-up enterprise or planning a charity fundraising event or project there will always be opportunities for personal growth and development.  My wife and I have launched several new ventures this year so we are able to contribute based on our own recent experience. So here goes, Simon’s 10 Steps To Being Successful:

  1. Set your personal goal. Be very clear about what you are trying to achieve, and as specific as you can.
  2. Define your proposition. What is it that you are seeking to do? Write it down, in words or using pictures as well as text: test this out with family or friends and see whether they understand what you are looking to sell or develop as a service or business idea.
  3. Look after the pennies… Set a budget, know your finances, work out your costs, profit margins and generally get to grips with funding and managing the business. Cash flow (or lack of!) is one of the biggest problems that businesses face and you need to keep ahead of the game.
  4. Sell, Sell, Sell. Whether you are providing a service or selling a product you need customers who are willing to buy. Getting started is often the toughest bit, but once you secure your first sale you need to quickly build on the momentum.
  5. Customer service. Those businesses that deliver consistently excellent levels of customer service will succeed and those that don’t will ultimately fail. Seek to be your very best, aim to deliver above the clients’ expectations and this will provide solid foundations.
  6. What is different about your product/service? Marketers refer to this as your “USP”, your unique selling point. We live in a competitive world and you need to stand out! Think carefully about why customers should buy from you.
  7. Use technology whenever you can. Human beings aren’t perfect…and neither are computers.  But if you can use automated systems wherever possible, this will make you more efficient and keep costs low.
  8. Invest. Any new business needs start-up investment: in time, money, materials. And existing businesses need investment to grow, too. Factor into your budget future investment….
  9. The 80:20 Rule. Business gurus refer to commonly held view that 80% of sales will come from 20% of clients, and this can be applied to other situations in life. Think about how you use your time to make it the most productive and focus on what you do best. You may find this produces the same result!
  10. Make a decision. Don’t procrastinate. Decide, and take action.

I hope you have a very successful autumn….   

THE MASSIVE growth in social media over the past three years or so, e.g. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest can make it difficult for small businesses to understand whether, or how, to embrace these new forms of communication to reach their target market.

It’s no surprise really as when you think that these sites have existed for only a relatively short time. I therefore thought it may be useful to prepare a quick guide to the most popular social media channels. Being based in northern France, I have noticed the way in which French people use social media is different and generally it’s less widely used than in the UK.

It’s important though to remember that the adoption of any type of social media communication will only be effective if you are absolutely clear as to how you propose to market your business enterprise or project. Using Facebook and other social media is no substitute for developing a clear brand identity for your product or service, and of course in preparing a marketing plan that you can follow and keep updated. Also don’t ignore many of the more “traditional” forms of marketing promotion; for example print publications such as newsletters (as well as the electronic variety!), flyers and business cards. The latter is particularly important for networking and ensures that you develop a strong and professional brand image: amongst my pet dislikes are business cards printed on thin paper or card; nowadays you can obtain good quality materials for a reasonable price. It’s well worth the investment.

Using various forms of social media is fun….is mostly free to use….but also can be time consuming if you are not careful. However it is incredibly useful and vitally important to those seeking to build their businesses and increase the amount of internet traffic to their company website, usually referred to as Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). With a good quality website and product range, more visitors = more business opportunities.

Anyway, I promised a quick user guide, so here we go…..

Facebook: Businesses are now taking advantage of Facebook, a site once largely for personal use, with regular and interesting updates, active discussions, quality photographs and encouraging feedback.  In my view it doesn’t replace the need for a website but many small businesses or sole traders use Facebook to get on line quickly and cheaply.

Twitter: With 240 million + users, it’s a tad popular and not just with Stephen Fry. But you must be concise! No more than 140 characters. For the business owner, it’s ideal for building your brand by engaging directly with your clients and displaying (e.g. with photos) examples of your work.

Linkedin: Putting your CV on-line for the world to see… Created in 2003, LinkedIn has more than 20 million members and is incredibly useful to promote your skills and experiences, not just with the written word but with videos and photos. Essential for those seeking to develop their business networks.

Viadeo: Is this the Francophone version of Linkedin? Maybe, but it does have members across the world. Set up by two French graduates in 2004 who wanted a business-oriented online social networking platform. Viadeo allows you to have a list of business partners that you can maintain contact with, seek job opportunities or other business partnerships.

Pinterest:  The site describes itself as a “visual discovery tool”, allowing you to collect and share different things on the web; it’s a bit like a scrapbook but on-line, allowing you to post things such as your favourite recipes (perhaps inspired by the Great British Bake Off?) or favourite places to visit.

Google+: Google has now entered the frame with its’ own social network to take on Twitter and Facebook, and is attempting to combine the functionality of its’ two rivals and Linkedin. On a personal level I’ve just started using this and it will be fascinating to see how it develops. 

Instagram: Perfect for sharing photos and videos! Launched just four years ago and now growing rapidly. It will increase in popularity as mobile technologies establish a greater market share no doubt…

Myspace: Very popular with young people and has similarities to Facebook allowing users to create their own page. Also popular with those who like their music!

Blogs: A subject for a blog in its’ own right… another key tool to raise awareness of your brand by building your authority on key matters relating to your business.

So that completes the intro to social media! A myriad of different sites and in my view, you must decide on what you want to achieve and find which site works best for you. You do have to manage your time effectively, and the use of social media is no substitute for a sound marketing plan. But if you remember that, you can really achieve results, reach new clients and raise awareness of your company brand. Happy surfing!

THIS MONTH has been marked of course by ceremonies and other events to commemorate the start of World War One in August 1914. Both world wars saw the use of conscription to maximise the strength of each nation’s military resource in order to fight the enemy, resulting in people of all ages and backgrounds becoming engaged in bloody conflict. This included many who earned their living in the arts and cultural world: writers, actors, musicians and all types of entertainers. The battlefield was however no comedy production and for many there would be no repeat performance….

The contribution of artists of all kinds to both world wars came to the forefront of my mind following a recent visit to the Brittany American Cemetery in France, where 4,400 graves of soldiers who died during the US invasion of Normandy in 1944. The cemetery is immaculately tendered and is a fitting tribute to the young men who lost their lives in one of the deadliest campaigns of the war. Other cemeteries containing the last remains of soldiers from the Allied Forces as well as Germany can be found throughout Normandy.

During the visit, whilst reading one soldier’s story it was revealed that before the war he was a Hollywood actor called Richard Fiske (whose real name was Thomas Potts, prior to his acting career). Fiske appeared in many films in particular as a foil to the comedy act The Three Stooges. Unfortunately, Fiske was to appear in no further movies as he was killed in action on 10th August 1944 at La Croix-Avranchin in Normandy, and his final resting place in the cemetery is just a few kilometres from the scene of battle. One of the things that came to my mind is how things may have been different for Fiske if he had survived, maybe he would have become a major star on the silver screen in the post war period? Perhaps even a politician like Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Fiske was one of millions who ultimately died fighting for their country and he was not the only individual from the arts to suffer the same fate. Perhaps one of the most legendary figures to die during the war was the band leader Glenn Miller, who was killed during a flight across the English Channel en-route to the newly liberated Paris: also in 1944. Similarly there were many other writers, actors and other artists who were enlisted into the military and saw service but fortunately for them and their families, survived the war. Many performed the role as entertainers to the troops, as a means of maintaining morale and helping to while away the time.

Rich or poor, famous or just an ordinary citizen seeking to earn a living: each soldier’s final resting place close to Saint-James in Normandy is marked with a simple white cross made of marble.  The tidy and well-kept cemetery and gardens are a fitting, albeit sad tribute to the fallen; and the presence of so many visitors to this place ensures that the consequences of armed conflict and the human suffering that is the result – is remembered to this day.

WHAT’S your favourite summer holiday reading?

There’s something special about choosing a book to read by the pool or on the beach: although these days many people prefer to download their favourite novels onto a Kindle – just make sure though that you take the recharger!

Summertime is the perfect opportunity to relax and open the page of a lengthy novel that we’ve been promising ourselves all year to read, without many of the distractions (quite possibly called work…) to stop us.

Holiday books can also be a great way of remembering a time and place.

One of my favourite books was actually originally written for teenagers by the Norwegian author Jostein Gaarder, but over the years went on to become an international best-seller read by a much wider adult audience, called Sophie’s World.

The book was first recommended to me by a friend many years ago, based on our mutual interest in history and ideas that have shaped the world we live in. I recall buying the book to take away on a holiday to Italy, and whilst enjoying the sunshine and in between swimming in the hotel pool, became engrossed in the story of how a teenage girl was taken on a magical tour of 3,000 years of history – meeting Alberto Knox, a philosopher who introduces her to philosophical thinking.

Now that may strike you as unusual holiday reading: but what captured my imagination was the fundamental questions that it asked us about who we are and where does the world come from, in a fascinating and interesting way. An excellent read which since first being published in 1995 has been translated from the original Norwegian into more than 50 different languages. 

This summer is going to be a busy one for us with our gite in France Le Haut Champ so unfortunately I think there will only be a limited amount of time for lounging by the beach….but I still intend to have a more leisurely read from my book collection.

Happy reading for Les Grandes Vacances, as they say in this part of the world…..

POETRY has always been of interest to me and a form of writing which both appeals and challenges me. I remember clearly my school days, especially in (what used to be called the Lower Sixth) agonising over how to use the various techniques used in poetry as well as assessing the relative merits of Sylvia Plath (I’m still undecided, but you may beg to differ) or Wilfred Owen (a literary genius without question in my book). I dare say that the Headmaster, Mr Grant who taught us during our AS levels was unlikely to have been greatly impressed by my writing skills, but come the exams in 1983 I recall achieving a reasonable grade so obviously the time he spent tutoring me wasn’t all wasted….

To this day I still don’t know how to use an iambic pentameter or even write in a form of verse which probably “complies” with the poetical rulebook, if there is such a thing. But when I allow myself the time and space to enable my mind to wander and forget about life’s everyday distractions or challenges, I enjoy having the freedom to pick up my favourite black ink pen and hardback notepad (yes, black again) and jot down a few words. Preferably with a large cafetière of coffee close to hand.
Five years ago I visited Padstow in Cornwall and spent an enjoyable day in the sunshine watching the world go by. I even wrote a poem to remember the day, which I re-read again recently and still enjoy. So I guess it’s being a tad indulgent, but I thought I’d share it with you, especially now that summer is here. But please don’t tell me about all the poetical rules that I have probably broken…!

Padstow, Pasties and People,
Rick Stein’s food at every turn,
If you’ve got money in your pocket to burn.

Surf boards, held aloft by girls – and boys,
Carefree teenagers wander, congregate, make noise (and love, but not in front of the parents).

Padstow town, old and new,
Bustling, ambitious, knowing how to make a buck – or two,
Shops full of plenty, most rarely empty – in this time of strive and struggle.
Pubs full to the brim, offering a pie and a pint,
Always busy to the very end of the night.

Ice cream sellers encountering a brisk trade, sticky toffee fudge, orange and mascarpone, exotic
No plain vanilla here, maybe homemade, please don’t sneer?

The Tourist Information proffers advice,
A day trip to Rock,
Now wouldn’t that be nice?

The afternoon draws on, the populace is dispersed,
The day trippers take to their cars to drive back along the winding roads of Cornwall,
Happy, satisfied, and content for another year.

MAY has been a busy month for Anne and myself.

Writing this blog at the end of the month, and looking at some of the photographs we had taken, I am amazed at how much we packed in to those 31 days! Here in Normandy, France we have just finished converting an old barn adjacent to our home at Le Haut Champ, which is now available to rent as a holiday cottage (called a “gite” in these parts) or for bed and breakfast. And we had our first clients, appropriately from our former home city of Portsmouth, who loved it and want to come back soon. We are really pleased with the result – we have retained many of the barn’s original features such as the exposed beams, installed a cosy wood burner for the colder nights and combined with all the modern conveniences you could need, should be a home from home!

In the garden and in my potager (vegetable patch to you and me!) the mild spring with sunshine and rain has really helped the growth of my vegetables: by the autumn, we should have a bountiful supply of potatoes, red onions, carrots, parsnips, garlic, tomatoes – not forgetting the delicious fruits that are also developing healthily. The soil of this area is prime agricultural land and I am looking forward to our very own harvest time.

We’ve also been spending time to get to know our community. Earlier in the month we attended a service to commemorate Victory in Europe day (8 May 1945) and I was pleased that we took the time out to learn about the sacrifices made by the villagers who died in the previous two world wars and meet local people at the reception held afterwards. It is an important annual event in the life of Saint Brice de Landelles and it is good that the memory and contributions made by others continues to be appreciated to this day. The following week we also had a stall at the village’s car boot sale (vide grenier – translated as “empty attic”) and although we only earned around 50 euros, it was a great way to talk to other people including our Mayor (we failed to sell him anything…) and even see the start of the village’s cycle event.

Finally, towards the end of the month my Mum and Stepfather visited us for just over a week; it was lovely to spend time with them, to show them all of the work that we have undertaken since their previous visit in May last year and to show them many of the sights and historic places that this beautiful part of France has to offer. A very special nine days indeed.
I hope that you similarly had an enjoyable and productive month of May and are looking forward to the summer months ahead.

OCCASIONALLY I have conversations with people – many running small businesses – who are unclear about the purpose and benefit of social media to their enterprises, when I tell them about my work at Hibou Communication in terms of my copywriting and my other marketing services.

Marketing continues to be one of those areas of specialisms which many people find difficult to quantify in terms of the financial benefit. The importance of developing a marketing plan is sometimes misunderstood, and knowledge around the potential of social media remains in its’ relative infancy. 

It’s a fair point. The likes of Twitter, Facebook and even LinkedIn (which surprisingly has been around for more than 10 years – ancient in terms of social media!) is of course a very recent phenomenon and any astute individual should always think through carefully what tools and marketing techniques will be most effective for their business and why.

But given the competitive world in which we live, where we are bombarded by advertising and marketing messages at every turn on the internet, tv, supermarket and even through our letter boxes, it is crucially important that we do not ignore the power that social media can offer to enable us to reach our target audience in a fun, interesting and cost effective way.

Using social media is a not a quick fix however, and the development of a presence on Facebook and other sites needs to be within the context of a broader marketing strategy. I have never forgotten the importance of preparing my marketing plan using the four P’s – Product, Promotion, Price and Place – which is a basic but fundamental approach to ensuring the success of your project or business. Understand the product or service you have to offer, be clear about the promotional techniques you will use, be confident about the pricing strategy (and flexible enough to adapt it as necessary to remain competitive) and work out the logistics of how you will deliver your service. In summary those are the key elements.

Once you have undertaken this important “spade work” to build strong foundations, and are ready to take your product or service to market, that’s when the fun bit begins! And this is where creating a vibrant and topical Facebook page, blogging (like me!) or using Twitter, Pinterest or Google+ to establish an online presence can help you to make your business a profitable one. Using social media won’t be the only thing you need to do to make the enterprise work, but if approached in the right way will certainly help you to achieve your goals.

Good luck!

THE RECENT dry and sunny weather has finally enabled me to get out into our garden and prepare for the growing season. I really enjoy the spring, with the longer days, warmer temperatures and the abundance of flora and fauna that can be seen throughout the countryside. It is arguably my favourite time of the year and has also made me reflect on two of my passions, writing and gardening. An American author by the name of George R.R. Martin once said that there were two types of writers, the architects and the gardeners. The architects plan everything ahead of time, like an architect building a house, knowing precisely the layout, the number of rooms and the exact dimensions; whereas the gardeners dig a hole, drop in a seed and water it. They generally know what seed it is and if they have planted a particular species. But as the plant comes up and they nurture it, they won't know how many branches it's going to have and instead they find out as it grows. I would say that I definitely fall into the gardener category based upon my preference for letting nature take its’ course and a reluctance to always play things by the book: sitting down to read instructions or directions is not my strong point!

But I guess that there is a need also for ensuring that we plan ahead to make the best possible use of the resources that we have available – and most important of all, using our time effectively. During March I did prepare a plan for our first spring at Le Haut Champ with an extended area of raised beds, a greenhouse and a new shed to store all of the gardening tools soon on the way. Already I am seeing the first signs of growth in the beds and the seed trays; onions, garlic (40 plants growing fast at the last count), tomatoes, courgettes, potatoes together with some marigolds to add a rich vibrant colour in the garden this summer. Anne, who  has recently started work with the company French Plans supporting people through the French planning process, is without doubt the architect in our relationship, and I envy her attention to detail!  My approach has been to decide on which vegetables and flowers to grow, have a rough idea in my head as to where they should be planted … and get on with it….

Writing today’s blog is a case in point. Sometimes I will know immediately what the theme of my blog will be, the key points that I wish to get across and the style of language that is most appropriate, even being very clear about the precise types of words that I will use. I will utilise the planning skills that I possess to hopefully achieve a carefully prepared article that people shall enjoy reading. However, this morning my method has been somewhat different; I decided that I wanted to write with a gardening subject, but equally I wanted to commence without having a defined structure or plan in mind; instead, my objective was to plant a seed, nurture and encourage it to see whether it finally emerged as a weed or as a healthy plant.  Often the two distinct approaches (and used for example by different individuals) will achieve the same result which makes life unpredictable, interesting and fun. So what type of writer are you, an architect or gardener? I suspect upon further reflection I maybe a bit of both!

THIS month is the 202nd anniversary of Charles Dickens’ birth, which was suitably commemorated by the unveiling of a statue of this literary giant in his home city of Portsmouth on the 7th February. Ironically, Dickens stated in his will that there should be no memorial to his life, apart from his published literary works, but given his fame and tremendous legacy to writing I would like to think that the great man would have approved of this successful fundraising project.

In undertaking research for this blog, I was struck by how much he achieved in the fifty-eight years that he was alive. Not just in terms of the influence that his writing had on changing attitudes towards the social conditions that many people faced in 19th century England but also his travel abroad, particularly to the United States which he visited on at least two occasions, his charitable activities and the sheer journalistic and literary range that he was able to demonstrate.

For many people, their knowledge and experience of Dickens’ works will be centred upon A Christmas Carol – a delightful piece of evocative writing that I reach for from my bookshelf every December – Oliver Twist, Great Expectations or David Copperfield. Each of these have continued to be read by successive generations and undoubtedly will do so far into the future – either on the printed page or in a digitalised version that is increasingly common place.

I confess that sometimes I find Dickens’ work to be quite dark and reflective of the very austere and squalid conditions that existed for ordinary working people living in Victorian Britain. For this reason, I would often turn to read the books of another author of that period, Thomas Hardy who wrote books, short stories and poetry that also shed light on society and the social conditions of the day. I have always enjoyed Hardy’s ability to transport me back through time to the Dorset countryside in the 1800s and talent to write a good story. Particular favourites are The Mayor of Casterbridge and Far From the Madding Crowd.

But as I embark upon a freelance writing career, it feels particularly appropriate to select Charles Dickens as the subject matter for this first blog and inspiration to those embarking upon a similar adventure in the future. Thanks for reading.