#SBS win!

This weekend, which the christmas rush over – I took the plunge and sent my primary computer in to get serviced with SMEIT services locally.  Nothing was likely to happen… I’d done the post run for Saturday and I was promised it back on Monday morning.  As I don’t work Sunday’s anyway… what would I need the computer for?

Well…  THIS!

Red Herring Games only went and won Small Business Sunday!

What is Small Business Sunday – or #SBS?

Firstly – it’ s a twitter competition.  For those of you who don’t know what twitter is… well, it’ll probably mean very little to you – so check out this first:  What is Twitter

Small Business Sunday (#SBS) is the brain child of  Theo Paphitis one of the Dragons from BBC Dragons Den.  (If you don’ t know who Theo is… pull your head out of the sand and click on his name – I’ve hyperlinked it to his website!)

Theo runs the #SBS competition on twitter every weekend to help raise the profiles of entrepreneurial small business owners.

Each sunday between 5.00pm and 7.30pm (GMT)- small business tweeters (that’s people who tweet) from all over the world send Theo a short 140 character message to promote their business.

There are a few rules for entry.

1) The tweet MUST be between those times

2) the tweet MUST include the hash tag #SBS

3) The tweet MUST be directed to @TheoPaphitis

Of the hundreds he receives Theo then reviews them and selects 6 to Retweet (thats repeat to non twitter users) to his followers.

This week he has 215,560 in total – which means my business has just had a mention in front of over 200 THOUSAND people!

This lovely badge came as courtesy of Aqua Design Group Who won #SBS themselves last year.  They now help other #SBS winners by generating a badge of their very own.

 

 

From what I’ve seen so far membership of the #SBSwinners group is very elite and everyone is there to try and help other businesses get ahead.

Needless to say I’m looking forward to a great 2012!

OSCARS SPEECH?

Well… as promised… there is a list of people to thank for this #SBS win as without these people I would NEVER have got Red Herring Games off the ground let alone winning #SBS… and there’s a LOT of people to thank… so sorry if I miss anyone out – email me if you feel omitted and the chances are you were overlooked by accident and I’ll add you on!

Website Thanks:

As ever – The first thanks have to go to Mark and Gill Hardy for their continued support from the inception right through to the creation and sustension (is that a word) of the website Red Herring Games!

Alison Clynes of Kinetic Marketing and Design – for intial help Marketting the business and then rebranding the logo!

Paul Fairhall for his tireless editing and voice over work!

Julia from East Coast Pictures for her fabulous You Tube work recently on our behalf!

Fiona and Sharon – the hard working “behind the scenes” girls who do most of the packing day to day! (and Fiona’s mum who’s just started rolling tape for us too!)

My team of authors: Mark and Kathy Pitchford, Kathy Roberson, Michelle Crowther, Tracey Latham, Kit Walkham, Paul Fairhall, Gordon Thorburn, John Waterhouse, Lissa Gibbons, Tony Brown,  Julieta Mitnik and Debbie Gooseman.

BNI members (past and present) who’ve supported me in business these last few years (In no particular order): Steve Thickett, Steve Sherwood, Mel and Ben Chase, Dan Reeves, Alison and Steve Clynes, Mark and Gill Hardy, Chris Waud, Mel Sharpe, Fiona, John Tucker, Heath Johnson, Jeremy and Jude Bass, Malcolm Cooke, Simon May, Andy Inch, Jon Ashley, Michael Leadley, Victoria Hearsey, John Booth, Geoff Christie, Alan Young, Mark Jones, Emma and Paul Fairhall, Helen Spauls, Emma Faulkner and Phil Hewson.

Friends and family (I’ve been told I can’t mention names as some of these are teachers – so I won’t mention any – that way I can’t offend anyone – but you all know who you are!!

My acting friends who’ve supported me in the arrival of the events side of Red Herring Games:  I don’t know you all by name ( and I’m sure to miss some people off – just ping me an email so I can correct it)!  But Bill Jellyman and team from Sale, Marie Shirley Lewis and Phil Armstrong from Durham, Steve Brennan/Bellamy (whatever you’re going by at the moment), Nick Adams, Craig Thurlow, Sara Beasley, Staurt Owen-Howard, Gareth Arthurs, Mike Wilson, Stephen Rayner, Helen Slater, Helen Kent, Jeanine Ridha, David Phillips, Johnny Allbones, Dean Wright, Dean Wilding, John Litchfield, Derek Hodges, Susan Everatt, Alison Bottomley, Matt Storey, Kelly Meacock, Kerry Buckley, Lorraine Laird, Tim Rutherford, Jeff Riley, Tom Wright, Joanne Abbon, Penny and Bob Seymour and many more!

Efactor and Jacqui from PulseCSI who told me all about #SBS!

Finally my customers – of which there are over 12,000 already – and so I can’t name you all one by one!

Thank you ALL for your support to make this possible!

 

 

 

Poetry

I was asked the other day about poetry.  Did I know anyone who wrote poems to order.  Oddly enough – I did.  Me!

While most people know me as a murder mystery author, much of my early creative writing life was spent writing poetry and my “claim to fame” is winning 3rd prize in the national scottish poetry competition when I was a teenager.

Problem is – poetry, as a rule, doesn’t sell, and it’s also very subjective.  But I do take the odd commission.

The most recent commissions have been for rhyming poems to go in children’s books, but the one I liked the best was the one I wrote for a wedding a few years ago.  The Bride and Groom gave me a picture of a butterfly perched on a dragon’s nose and asked me to write a poem to go with the picture.  I love dragons myself, and enjoyed writing it for them.

It’s been a while now since the wedding, so I figured I could probably share the poem on-line over Christmas for others to enjoy.

 

 The Dragon and the Butterfly

A dazzling frail rainbow,

swift amid the smoke and flames,

descends,

landing on the hardened scales like feather.

Such lightness of touch.

A gentleness never witnessed.

A beauty never beheld.

A fragility so different.

 

They regard each other.

The strong and the weak.

The lumbering and the elegant.

The impervious and the vulnerable.

Each the contradiction of the other,

and yet in both, a similarity:

The joy of flight,

the shared experience of travelling where others only dream.

 

They linger, unwilling to part,

In the pause – admiration,

In the stillness – restlessness,

In the silence – longing.

Each is a manifestation of the other’s desire.

 

Their differences bind them.

Yearning drives them to transform.

A kaleidoscope of colours.

A wonder never witnessed.

The delicate joins with the strong,

giving weakness to strength

meekness to majesty

frailty to power.

It is the realisation of dreams.

Only together are they complete

Only together are they whole.

Reflections on a rabbit…

Bedtime bunny We had an interesting if frantic half an hour this evening when my daughter (nearly 7) realised she’d left her precious bed-time bunny at Rainbows by mistake.

I haven’t seen her so distraught for some time and it got me thinking… did I have anything I attached that much importance to any more?

After all, this rabbit isn’t very much to look at.  It’s threadbare, the stuffing has clumped where it’s been through the washer so many times, it’s ears have been munched to tatters and, in truth, it was never a very handsome bunny when new.  She has lots of other toys, all of them in better condition – and yet, it’s this bunny that is the most precious item in her small life.

On the walk home I thought long and hard about her bunny.  Did I have anything in my life I would distress myself over, jump through hoops for?  And then I remembered… she doesn’t “own” her rabbit.  She loves it.

So yes… in spite of the fact that my own husband is showing a bit of wear these days, his stuffing is not in all the right places, and he isn’t quite up to David Tennant standards – I still wouldn’t be without him.  I’d walk back to Rainbows to collect him, and I wouldn’t go to bed with anything else.  🙂

5 Simple Customer Service tips

I would have thought customer service would have been really easy for most people to do well.  After all, it’s all about treating people how you’d like to be treated!  However given some recent contacts I’ve had – both with disgruntled customers from other websites, and also people I’ve personally shopped with – it seems that customer service is something that is VERY easy to fail at.  And so… here are some quick pointers:

1) Smile when you answer the phone.

People can tell when you’re smiling even if they CAN’T see you.  Express how you feel on your face and they will hear it in your voice.  So when answering a call – smile, and it goes without saying… if handling a complaint look sad.  They’ll hear the sincerity.

And please don’t whisper to other people, fail to cover the mouthpiece / put people on hold when you’re talking about them… or – have a customer service patter that everyone is using and that customers can overhear being churned out to another customer on another phone in the background.  These “once in a life time deals” don’t sound quite so hot when the person on another phone line is being offered exactly the same deal!!

2) The customer is always right – even when they’re wrong!

It’s an old adage but it’s a good one.  Empathise with your customers.  Listen to their complaints, say “I’m sorry to hear you feel that way…” and all the rest of the stuff you’re supposed to say in response.

It’s hard to give a good example of good practise… however, take for example a customer who is struggling to use the website.  Not because it’s unclear, but because they just aren’t reading things properly , or their software is outdated –  don’t just turn around (as I’ve seen one website do) and say to them “Well 10,000 other people have managed this – it must be you.”  Email them with an offer of calling them to iron it out… find out where they are experiening the problem, try to make things easier for them, offer to email them information  / post it instead of allowing them to struggle on the website. We always go the extra mile with our customers – and if they have a problem (even if it’s at their end not ours) we will try do do everything we can to make it easier for them or fix it for them.

And… bonus… if you listen to them, who knows – they might be able to offer some suggestions that WOULD make things clearer for everyone – after all not all of us are super techno-geek geniouses !

3) If the package doesn’t arrive – and it isn’t your fault – offer them a replacement or a refund anyway!

If you’re an on-line company and you ship (as we do) then despite the cock-up being in the Royal Mail – legally it’s YOUR responsibility to ensure the parcel gets to the customer on time.  Believe me… I’ve spoken to trading standards recently about this as I’ve had a bad experience with a firm who refused to refund me for some items I purchased.  After several exceedingly RUDE emails from them, saying that I should have contacted them earlier and that it was my fault – I spoke to trading standards and they assured me that I was right – they should either refund or repost the item.

At Red Herring Games our policy has always been to refund or resend items that go missing in the mail.  I thought that was common decency – but apparently we’re fairly unsual, and this isn’t standard practise across the board.

The quickest way to irritate your customers and get a bad reputation is to fail to deliver the items they’ve ordered.  Yes it might not be your fault… but it is YOUR responsibility to get them there!  Claim any mistakes made back from your postal company if they’ve lost the item and DON’T take it out on your customers!!

4) Do something extra they aren’t expecting.

We all like freebies and free gifts.  When we post out our printed kits we always toss in a packet of sweets.  It’s only pence, but we’ve had so many people come back to us to say thank you – just because of that.  Sweets are a simple, cheap way of giving something extra back to your customers.

If you go wrong… send out something as an apology.  Mistakes happen in any business, but if you apologise on the phone and then send out something as a sorry as well – your customers are really going to appreciate your sincerity – and trust me… they’ll be back.

5) Thank them for the business

Sounds like a simple thing to do, but few companies do it.  Pop in a compliments slip with a “Thank you for the business” in with anything you post.  If you have the time to handwrite one then all the better.  If you don’t – many printers will print you up one that looks like you’ve handwritten it.

If it’s a big order – then why not follow it up with a bottle of wine or a bunch of flowers?  A big gift will give your company a second mention – and it promotes loyalty to a brand too.

That well known Cowboy State.

My husband (a teacher) recently told me all about a survey conducted recently in America about people’s awareness of science.  It seems the report was damning:

  • Only 53% of adults know how long it takes for the Earth to revolve around the Sun.
  • Only 59% of adults know that the earliest humans and dinosaurs did not live at the same time.
  • Only 47% of adults can roughly approximate the percent of the Earth’s surface that is covered with water.

(If you want to see the full report you’ll find it here: Science Daily Summary )

I (like him) was shocked that so few people understood basic science and together we smugly said “the UK must be better then that”.

And so – it came as quite a shock when I walked into my local fancy dress shop to obtain a jockey costume for the next murder mystery at Doncaster Racecourse and heard the following:

Girl in changing rooms (getting dressed as a cowgirl): Where is it cowboys come from again?

Shop assistant: Somewhere in America.

Girl in changing rooms: It’s one of those states isn’t it… which one was it again?

Shop assistant: Tennessee I think.

Girl in changing rooms: Tennessee… yeah, that’ll be right, but there’s another isn’t there…?

Shop assistant:  Tennessee and… Canada isn’t it?

Girl in changing rooms: Canada.  Yeah!  Thats the one!

Canada!  Canada?!  Oh dear!  We might do better at Science in the UK – but clearly our geography is distinctly lacking!

 

Sloe day…

The summer isn’t really summer for me without jam making.  Usually it’s an afternoon strawberry picking followed by a boil up at home, but this year we’ve discovered that my better half is allergic to strawberries – apparently not as uncommon as you might think – and so strawberry jam is out of the question.

Fortunately we don’t just make strawberry jam.

Yesterday we set off blackberry picking  – a favourite autumn pass-time of mine – I just LOVE free food!  (Field mushrooms are good too – but I haven’t seen any this year…)  Anyway, yesterday it was a few jars of blackberry jam into the store cupboard for the winter, and a blackberry and apple crumble for tea.

This morning I was out again, doing an early morning raid three doors down where the house is rented out and the blackberry bush trailing out from their front garden was just laden!

Yes – I know… it’s in their garden… but is it really scrumping if a) it’s hanging over the public pavement, b) they won’t do anything with them anyway and c) it’s just weeds?? – I don’t know – but I have to admit it’s one of the reasons I did an early morning raid when they were asleep in bed instead of picking them yesterday afternoon just in case anyone leant out of the window and said Oi!)

Today – we went out with the kids to a play area about 20 minutes away and what should there be at the edge of the field but the most heavily laden sloe bush I have ever seen in my life!  Now, I love sloe gin, but I’m far too impatient for anything like that – but such a crop of sloes was hard to resist – so I didn’t.

Getting them home I googled Sloe Jam – there must be a recipe somewhere.  But was there?  No.  At least, not one that didn’t involve me going out and buying (YES BUYING) more fruit to go with it.  (Cooking apples in this case.)  And so… we invented our own recipe with what we had in the house.

So – for those needing a sloe jam recipe (if you happen to find a bush cropping as heavily as I did this autumn)… here it is:

SLOE JAM

1.2 kg sloes (approx)

400 ml Orange Juice (cheap shoddy concentrate was all we had in the house)

300ml water

1.2kg preserving sugar (it has to be Preserving sugar NOT jam sugar).

METHOD:

Clean all the twigs etc from the sloes, and then put them in a large pan with the water.  Bring them to the boil and simmer for around 10 minutes.  Mash them with a potato masher.  (You may need a bit more water depending on how much evaporates out.)

Strain the sloes in a muslin bag or through a sieve – getting out as much juice and flesh as possible, but leaving the stones and skins behind.  (we used both the slow drip and when that wasn’t fast enough for me, the squeezing to within an inch of their life technique).

After that you should hopefully have around 600gm of sloe juice and strained flesh to make jam with.  The rest is rubbish – just throw it away / compost it (but be warned – there’ll be a ton of pips in your compost).

Add the sloe juice and flesh, orange juice and preserving sugar to a LARGE pan ( the jam rises while boiling so you need to be aware it might boil over – we used a massive stock pot).  Bring to the boil and boil for 15 minutes.

After that – just decant the jam into jam jars and hey presto – Sloe Jam (or in this case probably Sloe Marmalade as it’s got the orange in it as well.

Either way – it’s delicious!  Can’t wait until it’s cooled down!

Anyway – that’s my “recipe for the day” and “what” you are asking – “does this have to do with murders?”

Oh – well take a look at the straining sloes – could easily be blood…

Only a few days to go – am I excited? yes!

Tuesday 6th sees the arrival of Georgina Starkie at Red Herring Games.  Am I a little excited by the prospect?  Er… yeah!  Did I expect to be expanding the business after 4 years trading?  Er… no.

But it’s like they always say at Business training – when you’re self employed you’ve got to work ON the business not IN the business some of the time – and I’m hoping that Geogina’s arrival will be the start of the biggest expansion phase we’ve seen at Red Herring Games.

Business advisors always say to create achievable goals (SMART is the acronym everyone bandies around, specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and … I knew I wouldn’t remember them all, and indeed I may have got a few of those mixed up as well…) .

So once I’ve finished inducting Georgina into the day to day admin of the business, what do I intend to do with my time?

Well, frankly long coffee breaks won’t be one of the features!!

September may be the last “quiet” month before the onslaught of winter trade (and I rather suspect that it may begin early this year as we’ve seen in increase already).   So any time I have in September will be spent on working out the franchising arrangements of the entertainment side of the business.

After that – well it’ll be all hands to battle stations with orders and I suspect a couple of custom written games.  I know of at least one that needs writing by November, and I think there’s another in the wings.

Also I have a hankering to finish off “A Bad Vintage” which is still only in plotting stages, not least because I’ve already had a request to “size it up” to 20 players for Bryn Tanat  – a self catering place in the Welsh Shropshire borders who are at this moment making arrangements to customise “Murder at Merkister Hall” into something they can provide to their guests along with a dressing up box and compare.

And if I have any spare time?

Well marketing is something I’ve not really done before now, or if I have I’ve only really “played” at it – so that’s the next target.  For which I expect I’ll be enlisting help from Alison at Kinetic Marketing and Design as she knows her stuff, and Chris from Go Photo who’ll help me capture some quality images for the materials.

Anyone fancy modelling?

It’s a small world…

Like most writers, I’m also an avid reader.  This month is seeing me devouring “The Woman in White” by Wilkie Collins, one of the original murder mystery writers of the 1800s.  The book was serialised in “All the year round” at the time of the Road Hill Murder (see Suspicions of Mr Whicher on Amazon).  The Road hill murder was the very real murder which started out the whole murder mystery genre.

The book is well written though, do be warned it’s written in the 1800s so it isn’t fast paced chick lit – it’s classic writing, which means it needs to be read, not skimmed.  However the reason I mention it today is that I’ve just come upon a classic quote.

It’s not everyday you see the town in which you live mentioned in a book – unless of course you happen to be living somewhere like London – so when the word Grimsby crops up in literature to me it always makes me think “hey I live there”.

However – this mention was  a classic and so I just had to put it on the blog.  Excerpt from book (don’t worry it’s not a spoiler!)

Anne’s terror of being discovered in London or its neighbourhood, whenever they ventured to walk out, had gradually communicated itself to Mrs Clements; and she had determined on removing to one of the most out-of-the-way places in England – to the town of Grimsby in Lincolnshire, ….

Like I said – a classic quote!  Nice to know I live in one of the “most out-of-the-way places” in England!  (And that was in the 1800s at the hieght of the fishing industry so just imagine what it’s like living here now!!!)

Interviewing…

Well – that’s it – I’ve done my first “real” interview as the employer.

Oddly I couldn’t help being reminded of the opening scenes of Shallow Grave where they are interviewing for a new flat mate and how I didn’t keep laughing I don’t know.

Shallow Grave flat mate interview

As you can imagine – the questions we decided on, for working in a murder mystery entertainments company, weren’t exactly what you might expect from a “standard” interview.  After all, anyone can blag an interview when it’s the standard “What are your weaknesses” and “Why do you want the job” questions.  Instead we went for things like “What are you reading at the  moment?”  “What do you think was the best cinema release this year”.

After all, the office is small, it’s still very much a “family run” business and I want to know whether I’m going to get on with them, as much as whether they’re going to be able to do the job!

However, after a morning of interviews, we did actually find the right person for the job!  So come September 6th Georgina Starkie will be joining the firm.

Georgina will be handling all the admin and on-line orders I’ve been struggling to keep up with – and what will I be doing?

Well, this year Red Herring Games is going to get BIG!  We’ve got franchising on the horison, and we’re increasing our event productions every month.  So don’t worry about me… I certainly won’t be twiddling my thumbs!  I’m going to have a year working ON the business rather then IN the business and see just how busy we can get!

Muscials, Murders, Mysteries… a catch all update!

Ok… well, it’s been a frenetic and exciting couple of weeks with me – hence – a shortage of blog posts.  For those keeping up with me on twitter – then that doesn’t matter.  For those who just keep up with the blog… well, here’s a summary:

Several new authors on Red Herring Games have kept me busy on the admin side of the business this July, proofing, formatting and getting new games live.  (Two new ones are due later this week – an allo allo spoof – Stiffen Very carefully by Michelle Crowther and The Mexican Mayan Mystery by yours truly.)

We’ve also been getting regular customisations to do, several event bookings (including two hen parties which have already happened in July, one in Derby at the Cathedral Quarter – and one in Grimsby at the Humber Royal) and added to that we’re in the middle of applications for our new apprentice due to start in September and franchising the business (yes – can you believe it – barely four years in and we’re franchising!).

Social Media Marketing for RHG has also been keeping me busy… ok ok… it’s an excuse to get totally distracted by Twitter, but it’s better then getting distracted by ebay – at least Twitter doesn’t cost me anything!

Anyway, as you can imagine Red Herring Games has been keeping me very busy… but that’s work, and enough of apologies!

What else is afoot (as Holmes would say).  Well, Curtain Up! are knee deep in rehearsals and (and dead bodies) for The Sound of Murder!   – (that’s the problem with producing a murder mystery by yours truly, the body count is usually high).  I received delivery of my official T-Shirt today logo’d with the art work.  (So now I have really been there, done that and got the T-shirt!)  Notice please the “Written by…” Needless to say I am VERY excited about it all.  If you want any tickets – the details are here: Curtain Up Productions: The Sound of Murder!

The kids are on the school holidays so we’ve been jet setting off here and there every week.  Chester Zoo was the most recent day trip of this week.


The baby elephants had to be the highlight of the day!  Everyone say ah!

Next week it’s the turn of the National Train Museum in York (YET AGAIN! – the problem of having an avid young train fanatic in the family) and if all goes to plan, it’ll be off to Robin Hoods bay to hammer out some fossils and thus contribute to the eroding cliffsides.  (A hobby of mine when I’m not putting pen to paper – or should I say, finger to key board?)

The BBC are running their Alfred Bradley award again this year for Northern Writers – and I’m ever hopeful I’ll get a pitch in before the deadline of the 15th September.  This time around it’s a finished script in any genre and a pitch they’re looking for.  Pitches are harder to write then  the actual scripts I find, so that’ll probably take me more time then honing Chasing Thunder, which is the screenplay I’m going to submit as my supporting piece this time around (they didn’t think much to Deep Rising it seems at the Writersroom, so no point going there again.  Shame.  I loved that one – all Krakan Wakes kind of feel.)

For other writers reading this blog – there are a host of great competitions and opportunities out on the BBC writersroom at the moment and I’d seriously give them a look.  They host some of the best competitions out there for new writers, and the roadshows they run from time to time are well worth going to as well.

Anyway – that’s me.  I was long overdue for an update, but if I’m going to get anything acheived in August, I guess it’s less time on the blog and more time on the grindstone.