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Gladys M. Yates was born on the 28 August 1921 and died on Saturday 5th November this year, a few short weeks after her 95th birthday.
The ‘M’ stands for a classic 19th-century name, beautiful in its own right.
But, in Nanna’s head - I learned at the funeral yesterday - it stood for ‘Mortified if anyone finds out’, so I will spare her the fate of having it forever committed to the internet here.
Perhaps the only funny thing about death is how much it makes you reflect upon life. Your own and, in a more profound way, the life of the person so dear to you for so long, but who we’ll never see again.
Eighteen days feels like a long time to pause life between Nanna’s death and the chance to say goodbye to her properly, but it’s given a window to think deeply about all that she meant in life, as well as changes her death bring to the family.
By the measure of people, 95 years is a phenomenal amount of time to be alive.
If I’m fortunate enough to emulate her achievement, I still have over half a century to go!
In that time, she experienced a lot of life.
Our Glad was born less than three years after the first World War and turned 18 just a week before Britain declared war on Germany in 1939. The entirety of her childhood was prised into the short gap between two world wars, which were almost certainly the UK’s most difficult years in modern times.
During the second world war, at an age when today you’d be on a gap year or having a blast at university, nanna was dealing with blasts of a very different kind. She worked in a munitions factory and, as mourners learned yesterday, almost caused her own explosion when she (literally) dropped a bomb one day.
Most lives have their share of trauma and challenge, sure, but I highlight just a few of nanna’s challenges not for bragging rights on how tough her life was, but to spotlight just what - I think - is the very essence of what made her such a remarkable lady.
Despite the challenges, setbacks and toughness of life, she retained a forever childlike innocence and warmth for everyone around her. All of my memories of her, and I’ve been reviewing them in some detail these past weeks, are cosy and pleasant; they make me smile - Nanna always made me smile!
The more I reflect, the more magical it seems that a fairly ordinary woman who has faced some extraordinary difficulties, certainly by today’s standards, could bring such lightness of being to the people around her.
Even the last time I saw her looking well, at her 95th birthday party, she was excited that a party was going on and that so many people had turned up to be a part of it. Nanna’s dementia meant she was barely aware who we were or that this was her party, but it was no matter for her soul...
Even as that awful, pernicious illness ravaged her brain, it could not diminish her being. At her very core was a light joyfulness of life that was never surrendered. She laughed and enjoyed the party with us and I have no doubt that, had she been able, she’d have got up to dance with us too!
The tragedy of living to be 95, especially when you’re the youngest of three children, is that there’s a good chance you’ll outlive every one of your peer group.
At yesterday’s funeral, there was a marked absence of anyone from her generation, but the next two generations were there in number to share our love with her one more time as we said goodbye.
Jim and I were not as close to Nanna as Heidi, but I know she always had a soft spot for Jim. He felt particularly connected to her, especially when her sister Ethel died. Jim and his family will miss ‘nanna in the sky’.
My sister, Heidi, was her next-door neighbour for a while. Actually, they were next-floor neighbours. For the whole of my life, Nanna lived on the 12th floor of a block of flats and Heidi came and nestled below her at a testing time in her life.
I was going to say that Nanna became like a second mum to Heidi, however, the more I reflect on the relationship they had, the more I see it as a deep friendship.
A friendship that unusually - but wonderfully - spanned the near six decades which separated them. Yes, they were at very different ages of their lives, but they were experiencing similar life events.
Serendipity made them neighbours, circumstance made them sisters and time spent together made them friends.
We get so few relationships of that strength in life, I know what you shared will bring you many happy memories for the rest of your life, Heidi.
Nanna leaves behind three children, Tony, Wendy (mum) and Mark.
My uncle Tony, like me, is the eldest of his siblings. Consequently, he knew nanna for longer than any of us.
Tony took Nanna on holiday to Egypt. I may be wrong, but think this was the first time she’d ever been on a plane and was it that time she had to go down the emergency escape chute on the runway?! I do remember her relaying the story of the tour bus being surrounded by armed guards as they travelled outside the holiday compound.
I wish my memory for facts was better, but I think he also took her cruising more than once. Before he took Nanna away, she was not a well-travelled lady!
Another thing I learned yesterday was Tony took her to see her idol, Frankie Vaughan (his 1955 signature tune ‘Give me the moonlight, give me the girl was played at the funeral). They’d arranged for Frankie to read out her name on stage, instead, he pulled her onto the stage itself and serenaded her! She was star-struck for months and his signed photo was pinned to her kitchen wall for years.
I don’t know Tony as well as I ought, but I know he gave Nanna some wonderful experiences.
I hope Nanna’s funeral and the chance to share stories about her with us afterwards bought a small measure of happiness for him at a very dark time in his life.
My mum, Wendy, is Nanna’s second child.
It’s no surprise to learn that almost all of my memories of Nanna figure my mum in there somewhere.
Being her only daughter, their emotional bond was incredibly strong.
It was hard for them both when mum moved to Spain, but the connection was kept very strong with visits back and forth - including Nanna and Mark having Christmas on the beach with Mum and Ray.
Mum had us laughing yesterday as she recalled the day Nanna inadvertently met Prince Charles. Mum knows how to get what she wants and, by fluke, Nanna was in hospital on the day Charles was there to open a new wing.
Crowbarring Nanna to the front, a security outrage was nearly caused when Our Glad (who, I should point out, was a royalist beyond compare) reached out from her wheelchair, grabbed Charlie’s arm, pulled him in and said: “I’m having the same operation your grandma had!”.
Nanna’s strength was deteriorating by her late 80s and her mental prowess diminished rapidly over the past two or three years. I can only imagine with great sadness how hard it has been for mum to see that happen to Nanna.
We laughed yesterday when we called out that Mum had now become the matriarch of the family. She was less thrilled with the title, but I’ve been reflecting on what that means.
“You’re next in the firing line!” is how it’s been put in the family and, whilst that is a slightly scary truth, taking the time to see how Our Glad wore the crown shines more positive emotions on it.
Nanna was the matriarch of our family from before my life began almost 43 years ago.
Her long reign in that position came with a simple philosophy: bring joy to those around you, provide solace when it’s required and be the linchpin which binds a spread out family together.
At a time of massive shock to the family structure, like that which hit us in the early hours of the fifth November, we all need a loving symbol of calmness and security and the sense that we do carry on as a family unit which loves and cares for each other.
You should be incredibly proud to step into your mum’s shoes as our new matriarch because I know, mum, that you will do that wonderfully!
Uncle Mark is the youngest of Nanna’s three children.
He was born only a few years before Graham, the eldest of my generation and he’s just 13 years older than me.
Until Nanna moved out of the flat to receive 24hr care a couple of years ago, she and Mark had lived together his whole life.
He is very much the unsung hero in Nanna’s story.
I struggle to recount individual stories of Mark and Nanna. As a child the most I saw of him was when Nanna forced him to come out of his room and say ‘hi’ to us. I suspect he dreaded having us running around and screaming on a Sunday dinnertime!
One fond memory I have of Mark is getting drunk with him one Christmas. I’m afraid I don’t recall which one, but think it might have been when mum lived in Southwell (more than twenty years ago) and he and Nanna came over.
Anyway, Mark’s experience is one I've thought about a lot since she passed.
Whilst everyone else was moving, marrying (and remarrying), having kids and generally having life filled by all the things that make it more difficult to spend time with your parents and grandparents, Mark was there, always at Nanna’s side.
His banter with Nanna is somewhat legendary within the family. He gave her stick, she gave some back and laughed at nearly all of it!
She washed his clothes, packed him up, and made sure he was out of bed at some ungodly hour for the morning shift (we used to tease her a lot about going to bed so early and getting up at 4!).
As age began to take its toll on her, Mark reciprocated by being her constant companion. There is no doubt that Nanna lived as long and as well as she did in no small part for having Mark constantly with her, messing with her, shouting at her, caring for her and loving her.
But, sharing your life so completely with someone means the void they leave behind is that bit bigger and takes that bit longer to adjust to.
Take calmness Mark from this simple fact: you shared more time with Nanna than anyone else on this Earth. She was one of life’s truly wonderful people and I hope all those memories you have of her - even the one where she wakes you up at 4am on your day off - bring you comfort and happiness in the time ahead.
Nanna had a wicked sense of humour and a wonderful laugh. When it got out of control, we used to tease that it was like being in a farmyard.
My mum inherited her crying/screaming laugh, I have it too and Iove it. I know when that laugh comes out, I am truly lost to the funny side of life!
Just like her life, her death was a colourful affair. Nanna’s casket was adorned with blue sky and poppies, two of my personal favourite things in the world. It was perfect that even at that saddest of moments on a dreary, wet day, nanna still brought warmth, joy and light into a room full of family.
Heck - she even had a laugh as me, Jim, Tony and Mark had to carry her coffin in with a crouch to fit through the door.
After the lovely ceremony, we had a warm afternoon sharing stories of her over a drink, and I look forward to sharing many more over coming Christmases, birthdays and other family get-togethers.
I’ll always remember you laughing Nanna and your happy, childlike take on life.
I love you, miss you and wish you a very peaceful rest.
There are five types of renewable energy which you may be able to install in your home.
Also known as 'alternative energy' these sources will allow you to save money on your household bills by providing you with warm water and heating for free or by generating free electricity to use in your home, or even sell back to the supply grid.
These five renewable energy sources are considered to be types of clean energy because they run using fuels which do not emit new carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, unlike the 'dirty' fossil fuels coal, gas and oil.
The renewable energy types which may make sense for your personal circumstances are:
Scroll down to read more detail about each renewable energy type, discover their advantages and disadvantages, watch a video about how they work, and see if they might be the right one for your home.
If you enjoy reading this post and are smart enough to see how something similar could help your business, then...
Reach out to me at: Adam@AdamKirkWriter.com
They are supplied as large, flat panels which are normally mounted on the roof of your house, although they can be mounted on the ground if there's enough space available. Ideally, your roof will be generally south facing to get the most daylight to them.
PV cells are only light-dependant, so they don't need heat to work, just daylight.
They work best when the sunshine is brightest - so blue skies are better than cloudy - and when days are longer - you'll get more electricity produced by them in summer than winter.
Solar panels connect into your home's electricity systems to supply power directly. On days when they produce more power than you need (e.g. when you're at work on a sunny summer's day) you can store the excess in batteries or get paid by power companies for sending it into the grid.
Video produced by SolarDirect.com
Advantages of Solar Power
Disadvantages of Solar Power
I found this article from Renewable Energy World helpful in putting this information together.
Like solar panels, solar heating users power from the sun to run, but it is quite different in that it's a much simpler (and cheaper) system designed to produce hot water, not electricity.
All solar heaters have a similar design in that they are a simple box with a clear front and a black back with pipes running between the two.
The clear front lets sunlight in and the black back absorbs the sunlight and gets hot. Solar heaters then warm your home's water in one of two different ways :
Water can be moved around the system passively, but it is more usual to use a powered pump.
For most of the year solar heating will produce all the hot water you need but, in winter, you'll probably need a powered back-up source to get enough hot water.
Video produced by RevisionEnergy.com
Advantages of Solar Heating
Disadvantages of Solar Heating
Wind power, as its name suggests, is a way of generating electricity from the wind.
To do this, you need to install a wind turbine on your property. Turbines create electricity when wind turns their blades, which turns a shaft in a generator and the generator produces power.
There are two different kinds of wind turbine:
Like solar power, there is the potential for any excess any you produce to be fed back into the grid and for you to be paid for it. The electricity your turbine produces can be stored in batteries for later use, but you'll need to buy an inverter (which is not cheap) to do that.
Video produced by OriginEnergy.com
Advantages of Wind Power
Disadvantages of Wind Power
I found this article from Which? helpful in putting this information together.
The ground about 6-10 feet below your feet maintains a constant temperature all year around of about 50 degrees.
An installation called a ground source heat pump uses this heat to warm your home in the winter (when your home is cooler than the ground temperature) and cool it in the summer (when it is warmer).
To do this, liquid-filled pipes are laid a few feet under your lawn/garden and connected to your heating system.
As it's pumped around the pipes, the liquid absorbs heat from the ground and radiates it in your cold house.
In the summer, the reverse happens: the liquid in the system absorbs heat from your home and radiates it into the cooler ground (see the video below for more).
Up to 75% of new homes in Sweden and Switzerland are built with this system in place; it is simpler to install with a new home. However, modifying existing properties can be done and many homeowners benefit from doing so.
Video produced by DTEEnergy.com
Advantages of Geothermal Heating
Disadvantages of Geothermal Heating
Biomass, in the context of heating, is organic matter which is burnt to produce heat.
In the home this usually means a form of wood, either logs, chips or pellets.
Biomass heating is different from the other four types of renewable energy we've looked at so far because the fuel is not 'free' like the wind, sun or heat from the ground. Instead, it has to be grown and then manufactured into a suitable fuel source.
It is 'green' because the carbon released by burning the wood is not new carbon being released, i.e. burning it only releases what the trees stored as they grew. Growing replacement trees for those we burn will, in theory, lock up that carbon dioxide again.
There is a counter-argument however: the energy required to create pellets or chips through harvesting, cutting and drying, in addition to the fuel used to transport them to where they are burned, outweighs the environmental benefit of burning sustainably grown trees.
This discussion is not a settled one, and is outside of the scope of this post, but it is worth noting that biomass heating is arguably a lot less environmentally sound than the other renewable energies discussed above.
Video produced by HappyEnergy.com
Advantages of Biomass Heating
Disadvantages of Biomass Heating
You've now got a good overview of the most common types of renewable energy available for your home.
For powering your home, solar panels have the best potential to provide your electricity needs, and are significantly more likely to be suitable for you than wind turbines.
We've also looked at the three alternative technologies for heating your home: solar, geothermal and biomass.
It seems that biomass is not really viable for the average home and, if you are committed to environmental health, there are still arguments about the green credentials of biomass heating.
That leaves solar heating and ground source heating to go head-to-head.
Solar is definitely going to be easier to install than a ground source heating system. But, if you have the land, then your payback from geothermal will almost certainly be shorter than solar... and you get home cooling thrown in!
In the end, whichever of these five renewable energy types you decide to install, you will make a positive contribution to both your bank account (in the long run) and the environment.
If you enjoyed reading this and would like me to research and write something similar for your business, then please reach out to me at: Adam@AdamKirkWriter.com
I have several years' online experience both working for a national retailer and running my own websites, and there is one common mistake I see today which is costing retail and service businesses dearly: they do not have or do not believe in content marketing.
Why is this a mistake?
Well, there are two realities that any business which wants to create a brand has to face into today:
This means that, for your business to become a successful brand, i.e. a business that stands for something in people’s lives, it needs to behave a little differently to how it’s been taught over the past several decades of analogue selling.
Did you ever have a conversation with your grandad where he said something like "I remember getting our first fridge", or with your parents when they told you about gathering around the neighbours television to see the queen coronated?
Think about your reaction to those conversations as a modern, young person who has never known a world which did not have television or fridges in it.
Now, take a look at the leadership team of your business.
Many businesses in the retail and service sectors are lead, right from the top, by people of my age and above (late 30s, early 40s) who can legitimately say things (like I can) such as “I remember getting our first computer - a BBC Micro - at school” or, “I remember the first time i logged onto the internet - through a 56k modem, where the pictures came in a line at a time.”
On one level, that is very cute and endearing, but on another, it is potentially very damaging for the future of your business.
If the leadership team only have real experience of 1, 2 or even 3 decades of selling to customers in an analogue world (or perhaps with an e-commerce store too) then they’re only comfortable with a world where shouting “Hey you. Yes, YOU! Buy My Stuff. It’s Great! And It’s Cheap!!” was the successful tactic of choice.
But that is (fortunately), a rapidly dying tactic.
In the world where today’s truth is instantaneous, location-independent searching for anyone (and everyone) who sells what you sell, you need to be using a smarter strategy.
What you need to not just survive, but to grow into a brand with a loyal following and customers who will just come to you by default, is relationships.
Forming a relationship with your customers can sound like quite a daunting proposition, but the reality is quite simple (although I’m the first to admit, it is far from easy).
Think about the relationships in your life, family, spouse, friends, colleagues, buddies, etc.
What are the commonalities between them all?
There is really no difference between what's going on in your own life and that of your customers, at least at a macro-emotional level.
Businesses that do well, which become real brands, have a healthy relationship with their customers (as opposed to an unhealthy one, where they only come to you when you’re selling your soul on advertising and/or pricing).
Your business needs to become ‘someone’ your customers want to spend more time with.
One of the best ways to create and nurture a healthy relationship with your customers is to have a robust and well-founded content strategy
A well thought out, researched and operated content strategy will bring a host of benefits to your business. When followed through with business commitments, will certainly bring new customers to your doors and be more likely to bring back repeat business.
Your content strategy will:
The benefits are truly great but writing them down is the easy part.
To make it more tangible, I’m going to show you how you should put together your own content strategy and how doing so will help deliver the benefits listed above.
If you enjoy reading this post and are smart enough to see how something similar could help your business, then...
Reach out to me at: Adam@AdamKirkWriter.com
Getting going with your own content strategy can be really simple but, like with so many things in life, it can also become deep and complex.
At the start, I suggest working your way through these 10 steps, to whatever depth seems right for the size of your business and bank account.
The following steps are those you need to take to form your content strategy:
You need to be very clear on exactly what it is you are trying to sell / achieve with your content.
And I mean very clear.
This strategy works best when it at least starts with a very drilled-down definition of the category, product or service you wish to highlight.
A general retailer with hundreds of products may want to narrow it down to a particular sub-category to get started. If you’re a service provider, you should think about what particular elements of your service you want to become ‘famed’ for; what would you want people to thnk of when your brand comes to mind?
This is not as important as the next step, but is crucial in setting out what you want your business to become famous for.
By all means take the time to consider demographics (age, gender, wealth, etc) but, much more importantly, think about the ‘life scenario' you wish to cater for.
Are you supplying seeds and plants to first-time gardeners, or experienced, time rich pensioners?
Do you want to do hairstyling in the home for high-wealth ladies getting married, or in a salon for children of parents on a budget?
Are you offering web-design for young WordPress start-ups, or for national brands’ marketing campaigns?
Really drill down into exactly what it is you wish to market, and to whom.
Content marketing accepts the reality that it is so much more effective to be where your customers are already - to be part of that sphere - than it is to drag people who don’t know you over to your separate conversation.
So this stage is one that gets into customer research.
Now you’ve decided what you want to sell and who to,it’s time to turn detective and discover where they are not only getting that product but where and how they are researching it.
Grab some previous customers and ask them about their experience.
Hunt social channels, forums and blogs about the subject to understand what gets asked, discussed, praised and criticised about the product or service you offer and how it is sold.
If you’re selling garden bulbs, for example, go to gardening forums, read gardening blogs and magazines, search for gardening on Facebook and other social channels.
These are the types of things you should be looking for:
What you need to achieve at this stage is ideas for content you could produce which would answer the common questions, improve upon the experiences of your customer and would be very interesting to large groups of that population.
Every search term typed into the Google search bar is known as a keyword.
It might actually be a word, such as ‘gardening’ or it could be something a bit more refined such as ‘gardening for beginners’, or it could be much more ‘long tail’ such as ‘how to plant potatoes for beginners’.
The longer phrase is known as ‘long tail’ not because it has more words, but because it is one of a long tail of less-used search phrases.
If you run a big business with a well-respected website, then you can go after the head search terms, such as ‘gardening for beginners’. But the reality is that most sites are relatively small, have a low Moz score (if you don’t even know your own site’s score - or what a Moz score is and why it's useful - then reach out to me: adam@AdamKirkWriter.com and I’ll tell you) and so are never going to hit the first page of Google for big search terms.
Instead, you need to focus on the long tail queries you can help with from the research you did above and which have a low competition score, i.e. you can win a first-page spot on Google without too much effort.
With your list of winning keywords in hand, it’s time to create your content.
There are many options, so you’ll need to decide what works best for your business.
What style most fits with your customers and feels most like your brand?
And what is the most appropriate way of answering the keyword used to find you?
Finally, don’t forget to make your content notably better than what’s already on the first page of Google for the same keyword to give you every chance of rising to the top.
To make sure your customers can form a relationship with your brand, they need to see it behaving consistently.
None of us enjoys being a friend or colleague to someone with a split personality; you don’t know whether they're going to be super, happy-shiny when you see them or a grumpy, doldrum monster.
For your business, that consistency is best portrayed through the tone of voice you employ, and through doing so in all your external communications (and, ideally, internal too).
For example, a book called Dotcom Secrets, by Russell Brunson talks about identifying your persona if you’re writing a for an audience in the first person (i.e. using ‘I’ statements, as if an individual).
He sets out four personas:
The tone of voice can be very simple to define, e.g. Our business writes in the first person as if a female in her mid-40s with a love of gardening.
But, it can be taken to a whole different level, especially if you’re a big corporate brand, with guidance for imagery, words which are used and not used and the general feelings you will and won’t attempt to illicit with your content.
My advice: if you’re just starting on this journey, develop a persona with simple rules about how that persona will and won’t speak, and take it from there. It’s easy to refine as you get into a stride of creating content.
No matter how much effort you put in, and how great your content is, it’s useless if nobody reads it.
You have two objectives with any piece of content you issue: get people to see it and get websites to link to it.
To get people to see it, send it to your email list (as long as they’re opted in, nobody wants you spamming them!) share it on your social channels, pay to promote it to other people who might be interested in your content - such as Facebook groups, and ask team members to promote it on their own channels.
That will be a decent start, and hopefully, get a few eyes on the piece.
It may also pique Google’s attention, as it does consider social signals for ranking, but the biggest impact on your content’s visibility with HGoogle’s search results (by far) is how many other websites link to it, and the quality of those linking websites.
Companies which are serious about content marketing are very serious about outreach campaigns for their content.
Other websites will link to great content that also helps their readers.
With that in mind, reach out to other companies, bloggers, forums and webmasters which might appreciate sharing the information in your content with their readership (nobody will link to a hard-sell article, or something with a thin, weak or spammy feel - this is why quality and a focus on your audience is important).
Again, this is a discipline within itself that could merit its own article as long again as this one. If you want to learn the general principles then read this.
If you would like to discuss specifics for your business, then please reach out to me at Adam@AdamKirkWriter.com and I’ll be pleased to help out.
You’ve done great research, worked out what value you can bring to your customers’ lives, figured out how you can do that in a way that brings you visibility, settled on an identity to bring consistency, decided what kind of content to produce, and you’ve created and marketed your content.
All that’s left to do now is measure it.
So - a word of warning to the uninitiated: it is going to take Google at least six months to start bringing your content to the top of its rankings if your site is new and/or quite small or never hosted decent content before.
This means there’s faith needed on the part of your business that consistently producing content will, eventually, produce more visitors and conversions on your site.
However, there are some immediate effects that you’ll see from social channels, ease of building links, conversion of people hitting your site converting to purchase/email sign-up, etc.
In the follow-up article to this one, I’ll share with you how to put together a sales funnel which includes the content you’ve produced so you can measure exactly the impact it’s having.
Yes, is the short answer.
And just like my discussion paper on the impact of 3D printing on retail, the differentiator of the best retailers in the future will be that their customers want to have a relationship with them because they are an important part of their lives - not just some high street box or anonymous service provider just selling things.
Here’s a great article laying out some of the best content marketing of last year.
What is your business?
What do you sell?
How are you going to use content marketing to form something beyond a cold, fleeting and transactional relationship with your customers?
If you enjoyed reading this and would like me to research and write something similar for your business, then please reach out to me at: Adam@AdamKirkWriter.com
I noticed a tightness in my chest, even though I was supposed to be relaxing, and wondered what it was.
After walking a short while further, I figured it out: guilt!
It’s a Thursday afternoon and I’m one week into a new life of working for myself.
I know it's easy so soon in, but I am doing a decent job of setting work requirements for the day and week, and using the Pomodoro technique to make sure I sit and concentrate on one task at a time - just like I am doing as I write this post.
4pm came around, I’d been productive all day and achieved more than I set out to achieve (my ‘Life Plan’ being the main thing - which I’ll revisit in a future post) and decided to go for a walk.
Part of my new life is to get a better balance; to take better care of myself, including more time exercising and enjoying the aspects of life that are not work.
My mission was to be back home for 5:30, ready for when Rae gets back with the boys from the nursery, which leaves a solid 90 minutes to get some walking done - I can get a few miles under my belt in that time.
I grabbed my boots and backpack, made a drink, stowed a waterproof (it’s summer here, so expect rain at any moment) glanced at a map for a decent route and set off.
Only a few minutes into the journey is when I noticed the tightness in my chest and put it down to workers guilt.
After 23 years of being educated in working to the clock (instead of working to achieve or productivity), I’m beating myself up for having the audacity to leave my desk at 4pm and go for a walk in the countryside.
That’s the point at which I decided to slow down and absorb the sights and sounds of a bucolic English countryside at the start of summer; to slow down my mind and appreciate the good things that I have around me.
It’s also the point at which I decided I’d do some internal reflection on what I had achieved in this first week that could count as a success and would ‘justify’ time getting some beneficial fresh air, which itself tacitly accepts that work is a priority over the other things that make a life balanced.
Finally, it was also the point at which I decided to write this post and share some of the thoughts that went through my head, and the views that came to my eyes).
I had planned to write this last Friday (today is Monday) but my wife was hit by a migraine on Friday - so that was another day where one of life’s bigger priorities (my family) took precedence over work.
Thankfully she is better, but it did afford me more opportunity to review what I’d achieved in a week where I only worked for around half the hours I had available to me, struck down as we were by illness on no less than three days!
That was just the things I had achieved in my ‘half week’.
I also pondered the benefits of taking the time to go for walk in its own right, and came up with a number of them:
Shortly before I left employment, I spoke to one of my friends about her partner who has run his own business for years and was doing some work on a GP’s house.
One day he asked the doctor what he thought was the best way of living for longer.
The answer he received surprised him: “work for yourself” the doctor said.
The biggest cause of illness he saw in his daily surgeries was stress, and the biggest cause of stress was being employed by someone else.
It’s famously said that the best working conditions for humans are where you have more control over your day and get recognised for work done well, as well as other factors.These factors can become somewhat less relevant when you run your own work…. Although you would be naive to believe self-employment was stress-free, it certainly does have upsides.
My own evidence from my walk last week suggests I have a lot to unlearn.
I need to unlearn that the length of a working day is the measure of performance which counts, unlearn the low productivity of being an employee in a business with an infatuation for meetings, low trust of its executives and unclear accountability levels, and unlearn guilt for taking the time during the working hours of a weekday to do things that are otherwise beneficial for life and move me closer to my goals.
I fear all of this sounds like I’m letting myself off the hook of work, and nothing could be further from the truth.
At this moment in time, my driving force is getting meaningful work done to drive an income which means I can sustain this new lifestyle I want: on where the day belongs to me and I can choose how to spend it.
And, when I think back on it dispassionately, I achieved more work goals in my half week than I did in most full weeks as an employee and I achieved so much more besides that always being at work denied me.
On a bigger scale, this feels more like a life where my life belongs to me. My life goals which I use my life energy to achieve.
I’m still stressed when I finish a day having not done all that I need and want to do, and I think it will be a long time before I stop feeling guilty about downing tools at 4pm to go for a walk.
I do know that I want my life to become something more than a Mon-Fri working machine with two scant days of recovery, and so I strive to unlearn the 9-5 mentality of presenteeism.
Most importantly, I want to re-base how my life works, and a significant factor in achieving that is creating the space in life to do things which don't work, and unlearning the indoctrination of doing stuff.
Or, put another way, a walk in the countryside at 4pm on a Thursday is a thing to be appreciated and enjoyed!
If you enjoyed reading this and would like me to research and write something similar for your business, then please reach out to me at: Adam@AdamKirkWriter.com
Solar panels have been with us for many decades, I remember the excitement of owning my first calculator around 30 years ago which was powered by photovoltaic cells.
And yet, in that time, we still have not come to a position where they are common place within our lives.
In a 2015 Gallup poll 79% of the US public said they thought the government should put more emphasis on promoting solar power - a higher result than for any other form of power generation.
The pressure on us both as individuals and societies to wean off our love of fossil fuels is growing stronger all the time and so, in this article, I’ll examine just how far away we are from solar panels being a cheap and efficient alternative to other sources of power in our day to day lives.
The phenomena of converting sunlight to electricity was discovered over 160 years ago but it is only since the mid-1900s that the photovoltaics (PVs) have become been produced in a form that we recognise today.
The New York Times in 1954 predicted that PVs would lead to near-limitless energy being produced by the sun, but even today - 70 years on - there are significant limitations to that being achieved with standard panels.
PVs work by converting ‘sunlight into electricity’ (see the video below for more detail).
More specifically, there are materials that absorb photons of light (from sunlight, for example) and emit an electron as a result. This is called the photoelectric effect.
Gather in the free electrons which have been generated and you can produce electricity.
In traditional solar panels, the material used to produce the photoelectric effect is silicon which has a maximum efficiency (theoretical) of 32%, with the record standing at 26% today and standard operating levels of commercially available cells standing at 16%-20%.
This low efficiency is one of two factors that limit the explosive growth of solar panels, the second is the physical property of silicon.
It is a very brittle material, particularly at the purity required in a standard solar panel. To make it robust enough tt sit on the roof of your house all year around, it needs to be sandwiched between thick and heavy sheets of glass, which adds to the cost, lowers efficiency and makes them harder to install anywhere but large walls and roofs.
That’s a very simplified story of the solar panel, now let’s turn to what needs to happen to have them create all of the energy we need.
To get an understanding of the challenge faced in generating domestic electricity needs from solar energy, we need to start by understanding how much energy they need to generate.
According to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), the average household in the USA in 2014 used around 11,000kWh, with the extremes being between 15,500kWh in Louisiana and 6,000kWh in Hawaii.
1kWh (kilowatt hour) is the same as 1000 watts of power being used in 1 hour. That’s the equivalent of 20 x 50watt light bulbs shining for one hour, for example.
Using the average number above, to become self-sufficient with solar power, we need to generate around 920kWh of energy per month from solar panels - but what does that mean in practical terms?
The not-particularly-helpful answer to this question is: it depends!
The obvious thing about solar panels is the more sunlight hits them, the more energy they can produce.
Solar panels are purchased based on a measurement of the amount of kW they produce. The table on this page shows the amount of energy a 6kW system can produce in various states across America, from 545kWh per month in Seattle, up to 880kWh in Las Vegas.
If we apply this to the 11,000kWh national average, we can see what we’d have to spend to get ‘free’ energy from the sun.
By way of example, this website takes California and Massachusetts as states with the near average consumption rate of 11,000kWh per year.
To generate 11,000kWh across the whole year, the average house in Masuchusettes will need an 8.8kWh system installed, whereas the same house in California will only need a 7kWh system installing to generate the same amount of electricity, such is the impact of the amount of sun you receive.
One other thing to keep in mind is the space requirement for the panels.
For just a 6kW system, you will need 350 square feet of roof space, which is quite a big roof and out of the question if you only have a small house or live in an apartment.
Pulling all this data together, you can work out how much it will cost for you to become independent of power-generating companies and how long it takes to payback.
In general, it is cheaper to have systems installed in sunnier locations (because you don't need them to be so big) but around $11,000 is going to be enough to purchase a system large enough to meet your energy needs for a year.
If you’re reading this and wondering how they provide power when the sun is not shining, it’s through a battery system which will feed your house when the sun is not doing it directly. The solar panels feed any excess energy produced (such as in the day when you're at work) into the batteries to keep them powered up.
The payback period of solar panels is almost completely dependent on three factors:
If you have more sun and a higher grid energy cost, your payback will be lower than someone who has less sun and lower grid electricity.
You should work on the basis that it will take between 10 and 20 years for an average installation to payback.
The question posed at the start of this article was: How far away are we from solar panels being a cheap alternative to grid electricity?
There are two things that need to happen to get a universal take-up of solar panels:
Perovskite is not actually a material, it is, in fact, the name given the chemical structure of any compound which is similar to the original mineral perovskite.
In PV technology, perovskites are the up-and-coming stars of the efficiency world. They are relatively new and only being produced in the lab at the moment but, as the chart on this page shows, in the few short years since they became widely known in 2012, they are already hitting 20% efficiencies - on a par with the silicon technology of many decades investment.
The reason they are being seen as the next big leap is they are significantly cheaper to produce than traditional silicon cells, which means the payback period at a similar efficiency, is much lower too.
Even with the dramatic progress made to date, perovskite cells are still estimated to be 5-10 years away from commercial production. There are issues such as the robustness of the material and the fact it contains lead in its current guise, but they are not the biggest challenges.
To date, the largest sample of well-made material is only around one square centimetre in size and it looks quite complicated to be able to manufacture larger areas.
It may well be the case that perovskite materials are used to overlay silicon to make more efficient cells (perovskite works with different wavelengths of light than silicon) in a form we recognise today before we create stand-alone perovskite cells.
One additional consumer advantage is this material can be coloured, which has the potential to make it a more desirable product to have mounted on the outside of your home.
With a particularly cool sounding name, this tech also has the potential to transform the PV industry and put solar electricity production in the homes of most Americans.
You may have already heard of quantum dots as they have made their way into tv sets and tablets, but now they are showing huge potential in the solar energy market.
Quantum dots are semiconductors of a minute scale - as small as 50 atoms across - that are able to emit light in response to electricity (which is why they are being used in screens).
They are emit infra-red light in response to being hit by photons from sunlight and this makes them very exciting in the solar energy field.
They are small enough to be embedded in glass and the glass still be see-through.
The infra-red energy light can be guided to a solar panel at the side of the glass pane to create electricity.
Sounds like a lot of effort?
Maybe, but think about this: every window in your home generating electricity!
The latest versions of this technology (which is still only in the lab) contain no toxic metals either, so, in theory, safer for the environment than the perovskites discussed earlier.
Costs of production are still a core issue but progress is also being made on that front. And whilst efficiency is not great, it’s thought to max out at 10% the available surface area is much greater than solar panels on a roof (particularly in commercial buildings) which is why they are so exciting.
There are obviously some exciting developments coming in the future of solar technology.
I’ve outlined the potential for both quantum dots and perovskites, and there are others which this article from MIT covers well.
It also points out that the road to new technology in this arena is long and winding and that there is no single technology that promises to hit the three prime targets of the industry:
You’ve seen that it is possible to become electrically self-sufficient based on solar technology, but you’ll need a really decent roof area, around $12k and to accept that you won’t break even on the deal for at least a decade.
Because of all these, it is going to take a long time before we see the American public getting the support to invest in solar technology that they would like to see.
However, the scientists are marching boldly on with this journey and we can be confident that the options available to our children and grandchildren could well spell an end to electricity production as we know it today: every household will produce their own electricity from the sun.
3D printing is slowly but surely bringing about a quiet but dramatic revolution to retailing on our high streets.
I have 23 years retail experience and for the last three of those sat on the Board of a £1.5billion UK retailer with over 400 stores around the UK as the director for their digital presence.
For years, we've heard that the internet would sound the death knell for the retail shop as we’ve known it for decades but I believe this was only half true.
In the internet world, we still need the physical presence of the products we want to buy so that we can go and see just how big they are, what exactly the colour is and whether they feel right for us.
Imagine a world though where, in the comfort of your own living room, pretty much instantaneously and for fractions of a penny you could mock up a full-size replica of the product you wanted to buy and, if you are happy with it, you can then go ahead and download the detailed file (for a price) and have it printed whilst you work / work out / cook / watch tv / play with the kids / etc?
This truth is partly here, but the full reality of it is heading our way... and fast.
The compelling question then becomes, just what is the role of a retail store or brand, if you can order the digital file and print the product in your own home straight from the designer.
In the rest of this article, I’m going to examine exactly what that answer could be.
3D printing has had a short but dramatic history since it began in the 1980s, as this very helpful timeline from ZDnet shows.
Originally the concept began as a rapid prototyping technology, designed by Charles ‘Chuck’ Hull in 1983. He also designed the files which allow the design software (e.g. CAD) to talk to the 3D printing hardware. These .sti files are still in use today for commercial 3D printing.
Since then 3D printing has moved on at pace, you have probably heard about printed body parts, aeroplane parts 3D printed and even NASA printing tools for the international space station.
These are all fascinating examples of power 3D printing has to change the world we know, but they are distant from us as consumers and so I have been more interested to know what the 3D printed world looks like for the average man on the street today.
There are two types of 3D printer available today: Fused Filament Manufacturing (FFM), which takes a coil of plastic, feeds it through a nozzle and the nozzle both melts the plastic and ‘draws’ with it in 3D space to make a model.
This is the simpler and so cheaper technology but does have limitations on size and accuracy.
The alternative method is Stereo Lithography (SLA) which uses a resin as the source of the model which is solidified by an ultraviolet laser shining on it.
Both types of printer are readily available from traditional retailers such as Maplin as well (of course) from Amazon.
At the time of writing, an FFM model is already available for below $300, readily in the reach of a typical mid-earning household.
Whilst affordable and fun, the technology still has many limitations:
Whilst there is potential, today’s variants are certainly not disruptive technology.
3D printing is not unheard of in retail - there are a number of examples where it is being trialled - but it is in moving to the consumer market where that may prove to be most interesting.
3D Printing tech is moving on rapidly, and all of the listed limitations are being improved upon.
Take speed first.
This video from a TedX talk last year readily shows how the speed and accuracy of the SLA method is progressing.
This report from PWC highlights the challenges around using multiple materials, and how the way to get around that may be to rely more on the FFM method and have different printheads for different materials working in concert with each other on the same piece.
The challenge of colours is, in many respects, one also of materials, and is already being dealt with, as you can see with this piece of technology (called ‘the palette’) which enables a standard FFM printer to deliver multiple colours in the same piece.
Finally, printer sizes are increasing, but so does the cost and until the technology changes from cartesian to delta positioning there will continue to be natural limitations as to what we’d find acceptable to have in the home.
And, whilst I haven’t really touched on cost as an issue, the rule of thumb with all technology which improves to the point of being desirable to the average person (rather than just hobbyists or the bleeding-edge tech fans), the price of a unit will inevitably fall substantially with time.
Let’s play a game of ‘what if’.
What if the major problems of today’s 3D printing are solved?
What if 3D printers were quick, accurate, multi-material and multi-coloured?
What if they compacted down when not in use, but could scale up to print a dining chair, spade or dog basket when needed.
What if they became so cheap that as many of us have a 3D printer at home as have a microwave, TV or mobile phone?
Finally, what if we all carry an app on our phones and smart TVs that make downloading a 3D printing scheme as easy as a fingerprint on an Apple Pay button?
If all of those things are true - and there’s no reason to suppose they won’t be by 2025 - what does that mean for the current retail landscape?
Holding stock in multiple locations is perhaps the most expensive thing that a retail business has to pay for.
The cost of goods themselves, transporting them between distribution centres, shops and customers, and paying rent for big boxes to hold them in easily outweigh the costs of staff and other overheads.
The positive side then of 3D printing (and I’m assuming here that a retailer will have a bigger, better quality and faster printer than you do at home) is that retailers will not have to hold as much stock - which is a win for working capital investments and shop rents.
And, if they’re not holding the stock, they no longer need to transport it from one location to another, so they win on logistics costs too (and the planet and other road users benefit from substantially less fleet on the road).
Instead, the retail offer becomes one of genuine showrooming - a gallery of goods for sale, which can be browsed at your leisure and purchased to print in store for taking home, or downloaded to your device of choice for printing out at home later.
The result: significantly lower operating costs, higher profit margins - or lower retail prices - and much calmer, more relaxed shopping environments.
Great - so retailers should be pushing hard for the 3D revolution then?
None of them will be.
For whilst all of these positive results from the ‘what if’ scenario may be accurate, they entirely miss the point of the true impact on a retail business of a 3D printing revolution.
The retail industry exists to consolidate products from many different manufacturers into one location that a consumer can rely upon to visit and source the thing they are looking for.
The range of products sold becomes edited so that, as shoppers, we know where to go to buy clothes, baked beans, lawn mowers and pencils.
It also works for product manufacturers as a system because they can’t afford the processes needed to sell individual units to individual people. It makes much more commercial sense to sell great volumes a single product to a retailer and let them take the strain of distributing it to the public at large.
In a world where bringing a physical product from the place of manufacture the hands of a buyer is hard, this setup makes perfect sense.
Online retailing has been disrupting this model to a degree for some years now.
Amazon is the global superstar in removing the bit of the process where you as a shopper have to go to a physical building to get the thing you want to buy.
Instead, you select the thing you want to buy from a screen, pay for it on a screen, and they figure out the process of getting the thing you bought into your hands.
But this still involves moving lots of products expensively around the country using very expensive, sophisticated supply chains.
And the truth is, we still like to see and touch things before we buy them and we love the instant gratification of having our hands on the product we just bought as soon as money has changed hands.
Amazon (and plenty of traditional retailers) are making great strides in reducing the time between purchase and receipt, but it will likely never be enough to stop shopping being a physical activity.
Manufacturers themselves are using online to disrupt the retail model.
If we can order a pair of Nike trainers by clicking a button Amazon, Nike figured we can do the same by clicking a button on their own website.
They can also offer levels of personalisation that can’t be bought through Amazon and, perhaps the biggest benefit of this model, the manufacturer owns the direct customer data which they will never do when a third party is dealing with their customer.
Returning to our ‘what if’ game.
We have an even more evolved online retail space and we’ve just added to that mix the ability to get the product made in your home the very second you press ‘purchase’.
Let’s add one more ‘what if’ to see where that takes us:
What if Amazon et al allowed you to print a grey version of the product for free, so you could get a feel for its size and dimensions before buying the real thing?
Where does that leave the current retail model?
If anyone can get a product file shipped to your home digitally, instantaneously and for free (grey version), then what - frankly - is the point of a retail shop?
You see, I would argue that the impact of this combination of online shopping and 3D printing is so fundamental that it will actually sound the death knell for many retail shops and, consequently their retail owners.
From the manufacturers perspective, there is no longer a need for the middle man (or materials, or logistics - they become R&D specialists, but that’s an article on its own) it’s better for them to sell the 3D printing file direct to the consumer.
For the consumer, there’s no longer a need to visit a shop - the goods can be with them as quickly as paying for them with no need to make the expensive and crowded journey to Main Street for the privilege.
So with traditional shops losing badly in this scenario, who are the winners in this 3D shopping world?
I think it is essential to be clear at this point: I am not saying shopping is dead.
Consumerism is alive and well and is definitely not going to end just because of printing technology.
There are three groups of winners I can see from this world.
The reality (probably) is that we still want collators and curators of product types - if I’m looking to buy a new door handle, I’m going to go to a marketplace for door handles rather than spend hours trawling every solitary, niche producer of door handles.
So perhaps it’s the market places like Etsy that succeed in the future; certainly there is space for Amazon and more niche marketplaces.
But, and this is significant, there is only a need for so many marketplaces, and that number is not huge.
There is no differentiation between one marketplace selling a manufacturer's product and another marketplace selling that same product. If I’m buying it and printing it at home, the only thing I’m interested in is cost and low cost means low margin; the only way to make that model work well is volume - which means a huge marketplace.
Assuming today’s high street retailers have already missed the boat for forming a market, this is the first of two places they can win in the ‘what if’ future we’ve imagined.
They have to become designers of great products which they intellectually own.
Sure, they could then sell them in the marketplace, but with a big enough base of such products, they become an exclusive ‘go to’ place in their own right.
It’s easy to imagine a gardening manufacturer that produces the most desirable garden tools - outdoing anything available on Amazon or Etsy for the price and design. That is a market that can be won.
Traditional retailers can also win by creating movements that sell.
This demands the biggest shift away from the traditional role of a retailer as just someone that sells stuff.
This is doing well what the smartest retailers should be doing in today’ internet-enabled world anyway: forming relationships with their consumers through adding value to their lives.
Sticking with the gardening example: in the future where physical shops full of physical products just add no value, what’s needed is for the retailer to be where the shoppers already are.
If you want gardeners to buy from you, you need gardeners to trust that you know what you’re talking about and value the help you provide them in their world of gardening.
If you have a relationship where gardeners are coming to your digital properties regularly (website, social channels, ebooks, etc) to hear what you have to say, then you can be sure when they need to buy a spade, they’d rather buy yours than your competitors!
We’ve seen that 3D printing has the potential to be an incredibly disruptive technology in the retail world, especially if it delivers on the promises of flexibility and versatility.
The fundamental change to our retail model is inescapable, we just will not visit stores to buy goods anymore, and manufacturers can be incredibly selective about the marketplaces they sell through or even sell direct.
What falls out of this new world order is one very clear loser: retail shops and those retailers who refuse to see that their world is (already) something greater than that.
But there are three very clear winners: online marketplaces, brands that stand for great quality, unique products and retailers who understand that the only way they will make a sale in the future (especially if they don’t fall into the first two groups) is by being very clear about who they are for and then relentlessly striving to add value to those people without constantly seeking financial reward.
In that last respect, arguably, nothing has changed from today.
The winning retailers in 2016 will be those that realise the days of big box retailing chasing lower prices on branded fast moving consumer goods are rapidly coming to an end.
A retailer’s choices are: i) become a huge marketplace with massive appeal,ii) produce amazing, unique products or iii) be the ‘go to’ place for ‘your people’... or iv) Die!
The only thing 3D printing truly brings is a speedier route to death for those that ignore the warning signs all around them.
Yesterday, I shared where I have come from (in a business perspective) and how I have come to end up writing on this website: AdamKirk, Writer.
Today, I want to share with you my ‘why’ and broaden out my motivations beyond having enough money to carry on living where we do and enjoying the lifestyle which we have today.
There is a great quote which I read at my mum’s house in Spain around eight years ago, from Marianne Williamson:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?' Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
― Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of "A Course in Miracles"
I identify with that quote so strongly, that even now, as I write this post, I have paused and re-read it and taken just a short moment to reflect upon it.
In many ways, the sentiments in this quote are what have finally driven me to be ‘free’ to make my own choices and furrow my own path.
Please - take a moment to read it again.
I, you, we… all have the power within us to lead a truly remarkable life if we’re just brave enough to try.
Now, there is an interesting question!
I believe that can only be determined by the person living it.
It doesn’t have to be ‘big’; you do not need to be the queen of England, a super bowl quarterback, youngest billionaire ever or Mother Theresa to qualify (although all of these surely would?).
Instead, I think it is much simpler - I think it’s a life lived with purpose, which seeks to enrich the lives of others and does not bumble along passively and without thought for several thousand days until the inevitable end.
You (I, we) can be and are remarkable just through bringing a smile to the face of others, raising our children in enjoyable ways which make them wonderful new members of the human race and taking the time to ease the burden of people less fortunate than ourselves.
We are remarkable when we decide that we want great things for our own health and well being and set out to make that so, we’re remarkable when we take the time to consider ourselves and this phenomenal gift of life and when we choose willingly to do with it what makes us first and those around us second happy.
Why ‘me first’? I believe we are so much more effective at helping the people around us get the most positive energy from their lives when we have the same first in our own.
Every had a crappy day at work? Were you the shining beacon of love and energy that your spouse, children or roommates needed that evening?
What about that day when you just buzzed?
Remember… that day when it just all fell into place: the weather was perfect, you nailed that job at work, you caught a lovely smile from that guy in the elevator and your favourite song came on by chance on the drive home.
Now how great were you for those around you that evening?
Obviously, you (we, I) were much better on the lovely day.
For me, a remarkable life, a life of purpose, is one where we choose to make the days lovely by throwing off the things that we feel we ought/have to do for someone else, and wearing the responsibility for doing the things which bring joy to us.
When I do this, I bring joy to those around me whom I love dearly with all my heart, and I’m giving myself the opportunity to make the world a better place for those I am more remote from but whom I care deeply for as fellow members of the human race.
To this point, I feel I have lived a life of some purpose.
I believe I’m generally decent to the people around me, and I passionately love my wife and children and try to be good for and to them.
But, and it’s a big but, if you read the previous paragraph again, you’ll note that it is passive.
I am not actively and deliberately thoughtful in how I behave and act.
I’m known for forgetting the birthdays of just about everyone in my family and I sit back and let my amazing wife do pretty much all of the housework.
I do put more effort into my children, but I am quick to be tired and grumpy with the boys and am too remote from my eldest to be a meaningful influence as she moves into the final furlong of her childhood.
I worry that my time investment has all been too heavily focussed on my (soon to be previous) employer and not enough on earning the money we need to live in a way that strikes a better balance with my own well-being and, in turn, the investment I make in the emotional relationships around me.
Right now, at this moment, I am standing at a crossroads.
Yes, I am leaving work and embarking a career of which I am the creator and beneficiary, but more importantly than that, I have the opportunity now to re-architect my whole life.
And that means many more things than just my work.
In my previous post, I set out how I am ging to be working for the next period of time.
That’s all well and good, but the reason I am doing that (other than the obvious one about funding) is that it ticks some personal boxes:
Wow - until I wrote it down, I had no idea just how much benefit there was for me in the changes that are happening right now in my life.
Of course, the positive side of all those bullets are easily balanced with a scary negative: there’s no cap on how big I can fail, with no boss to chew my ass, YouTube is suddenly a lot easier to access, etc.
But, my conviction is that with planned, deliberate action taken on a consistent basis towards a clear goal, I can make this work and work well for me.
The list above is about (mainly) how I’m going to work and why that will bring me joy and calm (I rate calm very highly in my life - maybe going it alone is not the best source of calm?) and I’m doing that because I have a higher purpose behind all of these changes.
I want to be better at being a husband, father, brother and son than I have been for many, many years.
If you’ve read this far (thank you) you know that being a better me comes from enjoying how I’m spending my days. The list above tackles that, so what will being a better me look like:
These are all in train and going into my new Google Calendar to make sure I hold true to them - I want to be more about the important people in my life than I ever have been to date.
I listened to a podcast a short while ago and it was about setting up a new business and the entrepreneurial drive to do achieve ever more success, by which they meant money.
One of the most thought-provoking comments I’d heard in a long time came out of that discussion and it was about defining your version of ‘enough’ at the start of the project. The objective being to arrest yourself from falling into a pit of despair where a business ‘owns you’ because you carried on reaching out for more when you already had what you set out to achieve.
I have been thinking about that a lot since then, and I’m pretty sure that my enough is not a money measure.
No doubt there’s an amount of money that’s essential to live, and then there’s more to make sure we don’t have to worry about the day-to-day activities we like, but then it comes back to the quality of the life being led.
Enough for me, I think (and please hold me to this if we meet in the future) is about having enough time in the week to do the things that are important to me on an emotional level, such as walking, reading, being with my family, astronomy, etc with the money we need to live a comfortable life.
My days of aiming for millionaire status are behind me; I won’t turn it down, but it is far from my measure of success for this phase in my life.
With all that said, there is one last niggle about my why that I will tee up here, but, I’ll warn you, there is going to be no satisfactory conclusion for either of us here today.
If there’s one person I know well in this world, it’s me.
I’ve lived every waking minute with me for the past 42 years, and at least 38 of them with the conscious ability to think about how I am.
There is no denying that I have a restless spirit; my desire to learn something new, achieve the next thing, etc appears to be insatiable.
Those 42 years of experience would also suggest that I like to dream big: I become very motivated in the face of an impossible task, especially when people take the time to tell me it can’t be done.
So it would be a lie to sit here and tell you that the ‘enough’ I set out above would actually be enough.
I suspect, to coin a phrase, it would be necessary but not sufficient.
Now, don’t take this personally, but I do not envisage that I will spend every day for the rest of my life writing for fun and/or money.
This is definitely a stepping stone in my life to being a good person for my family, but I want to be a good person for the wider world.
So I’ve also spent time thinking about what that might look like once I’ve got my home balance and phase sorted.
I’m pretty sure it should be something I am passionate about and will give me lots of opportunities to learn, I’m also certain that it should be beneficial to many people on the planet.
As I said a short while ago, I have no firm answers at this point, but I feel motivated to become very seriously involved in the green energy / global warming movement in an ‘Al Gore’ kind of way.
Who knows what that timescale will be - I’ve probably got two to three years in this phase, battling to get a steady income and be a better man… but I do know that I’ll always be looking for the next thing, and I think it may be that.
Since it’s all getting a little loose, it’s probably time to call it a day on this conversation.
I do just want to finish by letting you know that I am having a life planning day on Wednesday 6th July.
Inspired by ‘Living Forward’ by Michael Hyatt and Daniel Harkavy, it is the time I put these ephemeral thoughts, goals and beliefs on a firmer footing.
I shall be sure to take the time to let you know how that goes.
This first post on Adam Kirk, Writer (AKW) is going to be about me.
What I am doing here is a huge departure from what I have been doing with my life up to this point, and I really want to make the effort to get some perspective on it.
So, let’s start with how I arrived at this point and take it from there…
8526 days ago I walked into my (soon to be) former employer and started my first shift.
I’m guessing you have no real sense of how much time that many days actually is, so to lend it perspective, my first day at work was 16th February 1993 and today is 14 June 2016.
I was 19 years old (just) as I walked into the store that was to be my employer for over half of my life by the time I left them.
My first night shift (9pm to 5am) consisted of putting screws and nails out for the shoppers who’d be in the next day.
Such a simple job but I remember being incredibly proud of what I’d done and showing my mum around my handiwork later that week.
She was kind about it, but inside must have despaired that just a few weeks earlier I’d walked away from my management accounting degree course after just one term (before the boredom became terminal) and had only a vague plan about returning.
You’ve probably guessed that I did not return - having more money in my pocket than I needed (board, lodgings and a few nights of beer were all I needed for a happy life back then) and so the journey continued.
There’s a lot of ground to cover in the 23+ years since that first week, but I am not writing a CV here and do not think it adds much to the story, suffice to say I leave my employer in just two weeks’ time after having attained the dizzy heights of a Board position of a $multi-billion national retailer in the UK.
Indeed, I have covered a lot of ground.
But today marks the start of a new life (or at least, 4th July does - my own personal independence day - the first Monday where I will not be employed since the age of 19) and it’s a life I’ve been aiming for a very long time.
One of the positions I held at my employer was called ‘retail planning’.
The job entailed deciding what stock to put into new shops that we were opening (and back then we opened around 2 per month) and re-organising existing store layouts to improve sales and profits.
I had a visit to the then new store in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, which my memory tells me will be around 18 or 19 years ago and I remember, very clearly, having a conversation with my boss at the time about being rich.
Too much time has passed to remember the detail, but the gist of the conversation was that the only way to make ‘real money’ was to work for yourself. Sure, you could be comfortable as a high-flying employee, but millionaire status was not to be found by following that path.
That’s my first recollection of wanting to do something entrepreneurial, and there have been many, many similar conversations since, such as: opening a cafe in Fort William, Scotland; buying a caravan to let out in Skegness; buying a pub to turn into a funky wine bar; etc
What revolutionised the way I thought about entrepreneurship was my first stab at setting up my own website.
I don’t recall where I got the idea from (I read a lot and listen to very many inspirational podcasts) but I decided I was going to try and market a digital product about (I think) writing CV for employment.
I created a site in Weebly, made it as simple as possible and published it - all in one night.
I then sat back and waited for the money to roll in (cue sympathetic laughter)
Of course, it did not - but an email from Google warned me that my website was too thin for being advertised and that it breached their terms of service.
They were right, it was one (maybe two) pages of glaringly bad text and copy.
Since then, I have created a number of websites - migrating quickly to owned domains and WordPress (which was a swine to learn after Weebly, but Thrive content builder lets you do the same sort of thing) with the goal of creating my own business.
Before my twins were born in 2013, I had set up ‘Hops & Honey’ which was to be a ‘proper’ business with products as well as a web presence.
It was for home artisan food maker, and I started with homebrew, mozzarella cheese kits, elderflower cordial, etc. I even ended up in the local paper and had a market stall selling bread and mozzarella cheese that I’d made at home in the town a few miles from where I live.
But I did not do it properly and still had no idea about how to run a website effectively, and - realistically, I was just too full on with my employer and family to entertain properly committing to making ‘my own thing’ work.
Hops and Honey duly bit the dust after only a few sales, but I had proved that I could get momentum into something of my own making.
Since then I decided that I wanted to sell only digital products and act as an affiliate for the physical products of others.
Over the past couple of years, I have set up homemadecheese.org which is about how to make cheese at home (hint: you need more time that I have today) and LovetheNightSky.com which is about helping new and aspiring astronomers get the most out of the night sky.
They have provided a trickle of income, but I have only sporadically committed the time to them which they need to thrive.
And then, somehow (and I am genuinely not sure even today how) I had the perfect opportunity land on my lap to “Go confidently in the direction of my dreams”
The stunning joy of what happened earlier this year is that it offered me the exact opportunity I had been after for the previous 18 months or so (and had declined when it was in front of me 30 months ago).
At the end of March, my soon-to-be new boss arranged to meet me (I was pleased, thinking my life would become much better working with him than it had been in the recent history beforehand).
Haha, said life, this is not going to be what you expect!
You know there could be an issue when a member of the HR team is unexpectedly invited to join you in the same meeting.
Long and short of it was: your role is going to change, this makes it a potentially redundant role, we do intend to go out to the market to fill it. The choice for me was offered as stay and take your best shot, or leave and have a decent severance with my head held high.
I did not see it coming, but there and then, no hesitation, I took the package.
The previous two years had, for the most part, been gruelling and I was ready to get out because of that. But,more importantly, I had already agreed with my wife a plan of action (basically a savings plan) to leave my employer the following year because I was so desperate to leave and furrow my own path in life.
Here I was, new boss saying “would you like to leave now and we’ll pay you more than you could have hoped to save under your own life plan?”
Erm… yes, please!!
So, here I am, writing my first blog post of my ‘new life’ and it seems everything is roses.
The reality of leaving somewhere you’ve worked for 23 years - longer than I have been with anyone except my parents, siblings, and best friend, is quite stressful.
I had not planned to leave - so it was obviously shocking, and I still haven't adjusted to that shock yet. I have sleepless nights and my emotions bounce from amazed excitement to outright terror at the open landscape ahead of me.
It is also incredibly tough saying goodbye to routines, structures, and people that have formed an integral part of who I have been for over two decades - more than half of my life lived in the same building with very many of the same people.
For all that, though, the fundamental of this journey is I am exactly where I wanted to be if I had been given a magic wand to make it so: no employer, no immediate money troubles, time to see if I can really make this work.
I have had a lot of time to plan for this moment.
My commute is a 1 hour round trip and I almost always listen to marketing, blogging, and business podcasts for that entire hour.
I read blogger income reports every month and all of this inspired me to want to make internet marketing a success for myself.
However, the cruel reality is that blogging of itself will not provide enough if an income quickly enough to keep the lifestyle going that I and my family have become used to, so there needs to be an element of cash coming in quickly.
For that, I am turning to one of my other passions: writing.
I have been writing for years on my blogs, and I love the act of researching and pulling together an article preferably one where I learn something new, but also get to communicate in a way that works for the reader too.
When I was a primary school child, I asked Santa to bring me a typewriter. When he agreed (thank you Santa) I used it to copy out the school newsletter onto my own paper.
As I moved through school towards my exams, I settled on journalism as a career I wanted to follow (but dropped it when I learned I’d have to endure another two years of one of the worst teachers I ever had) so have always had that kind of bent.
Which is why you are reading this first post on AdamKirkWriter.com: this is the website I will use to write on and market that I am available for writing assignments.
For the next few months, these two things are going to be all that I focus on as I aim to replace my employee salary as quickly as possible:
Writing blog articles for others in areas of my interest (science, space, artisan food, small business, technology, walking, family)
Building LovetheNightSky.com into a genuinely valuable resource for astronomers.
As an inquisitive soul, I am renowned for my ‘butterfly brain’ which keeps me forever hopping from the flower I am on to the pretty one that just caught my eye over the way.
In many, many ways, I feel blessed to have this in my character, but it is most definitely a flaw when it comes to any kind of long-term focus or completer-finisher objectives.
Knowing this means I’ve had to be smart about making sure that I stay on the rails with my two objectives and so I am trying out some tactics that I never really needed at work - where my diary consisted 90% of attending (largely fruitless) meetings and 10% of responding to emails.
Writing is the most important thing I have in my life right now - it is the thing that me, my wife and my three children need to get working for us very quickly. So I have a timetable that will see me write at least 2000 words every weekday morning.
Ideally, I will be writing them for someone else in exchange for money, but in the early days, that is far from guaranteed. So I will be writing on here as a showcase, or on other properties that I own or on LinkedIn, where I will be increasing my presence dramatically the very moment I am a free agent (right now, I don’t care for my employer to see what I am up to)
Timetables are all well and good, but how to be productive whilst following them is my next challenge
My tactic to respond to that is using the Pomodoro technique. I have an app installed on my Mac and am, as I write, in the midst of a 25-minute session of writing. It is early days, but it is working well for me so far, and the 5-minute gap between sessions is just long enough to make a decent cup of coffee!
Finally, I have created a tracker on Google sheets to make sure that I hit the simple daily, weekly and monthly targets I’ve set for myself.
As I suggested earlier, this is just a practice right now (being done in my own time - I am still under contract for my daytime hours) so my first tracked time will be from 4th July onwards.
My spreadsheet turns green whenever I achieve 2000 words written, and stays an angry red if I fail on that target.
In the afternoon, I am forcing my attention to turn to Love the Night Sky (LNS) with the objective of writing three posts and publishing two each week, so I can start to build up a decent depth of content on there.
This is not word-count specific, but more a focus on growing the website and having a bank of articles which I can use when weeks are lean or when my attention is diverted elsewhere, such as outreach or course construction.
I will still use Focus Booster to bring that all to a head and I have metrics which I will track to keep me true to my objectives.
I believe the best way (for me) to achieve what I want to achieve is deliberate and consistent actions taken every single day… now it’s up to me to sit down and do it!
I’m well over my 2000 words for today (great start) and have achieved it in three Pomodoro session (though I’ll need a fourth for editing and publishing) so a great start.
But, I’m aware I only covered my ‘what’ and ‘how’ today.
I’d really like one more self-indulgent post to examine my why… why I want this to be the shape of my life today, why I see it as a stepping stone to something else, and why I am not yet sure what that something else is.
Read that next, and then I promise to diversify away from me in the next posts!