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friends, Guest bloggers, Journalism, Media, Online journalism, social media, what I think, Writing

Surrounded by women bloggers: my day at Cybher!

I have never in my life been to a conference in which mothers breast feed babies while guest speakers talk, undeturbed, about their area of expertise. And that pretty much sums up the relaxed atmosphere at Cybher on Saturday – the UK’s only conference for female bloggers – in which 300 were in attendance.

Throw in free leather satchels, a constant supply of coffee and cookies, some talented and inspiring speakers and lots of happy, smiling faces, and you can’t go far wrong.

9am to 6pm is a long day at a conference for me and I’ve always had enough by 4pm – especially given my 6.30am alarm call to trog to London on the train with my sidekick for the day. But I was wide awake and 6pm and returned home to Milton Keynes feeling inspired.

 

Cookies and coffee and handbags Podcasting session with The High Tea Cast Caz Walton's Cybher badge

Caz and an AVG cupcake Taking notes at Cybher Cybher conference screen in the ballroom

 

I’ve never attended a conference where I’m not ‘working’ it – and Cybher was no different. My latest MA project on multimedia covers the conference, the stories behind some of the guest speakers and how blogs can change people’s lives.

So I had one eye on the conference and the other on my project but, to be honest, this assignment has been a lot of fun and one thing is clear – bloggers are talented, powerful and most of all, lovely. Not concerned about competing with each other, they’re all happy to share their experiences, their tricks of the trade and their expertise. Very refreshing!

So, enough from me, go check out ladieswotblog.co.uk for indepth interviews with some of the speakers as well as a round up of Cybher in pictures, text and audio.

Books, friends, Guest bloggers, Writing

Wunderbar! On getting published in Germany…

My good friend, awesome colleague and super talented writer Tracy Buchanan – AKA Buchy (pronounced Bucky) – blogs about what it’s like to get published in Germany…

Sternenwandler front cover

The book

When I wrote my debut novel Shimmer, I never dreamed it would be popping its publishing cherry in Germany. But just as David Hasselhoff and Bananarama struck a chord with our friends overseas, Shimmer seemed to really connect to German publishers. So, on Valentine’s Day this year, it hit German bookshelves as Sternenwandler (translated as Starshifter).

Tracy Buchanan

Tracy Buchanan

So what is it German teens are getting excited about? Shimmer tells the story of a girl called Tori whose life takes a turn for the weird when she’s saved from the local thug by a horse that morphs into a boy. That boy is Cam, a dude with a genetic mutation that means he can morph into any person or animal he meets. They start really falling for each other but, as Shakespeare once said, the course of true love never did run smooth. Their relationship is tested as Tori contends with her parents’ abusive relationship and Cam struggles to control his abilities – there’s nothing like morphing into your girlfriend’s dad to ruin the moment! Then events start spiralling out of control when Tori discovers her dad captures people like Cam for a living…

So, what’s it like being published in Germany? The same, I imagine, as being published in the UK apart from the fact it’s pretty hands-off from an editorial point of view if your book is in English. Piper Verlag hired a great translator, Vanessa Lamatsch, and she got on with translating the book brilliantly. Beatrice, my editor at Piper Verlag, is a dream to work with and kept me posted with the book cover design and blurb. Then when the publication date approached, we discussed marketing plans: Piper sent out copies to bloggers and we made deleted scenes, playlists and more available via the Piper Fantasy website and these went out via their eNewsletters. And I launched a friendship eCard which you can see on my German website (designed by the fabulous Westfourstreet) and check it out below…

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S4iPbmBgNDM]

So, what’s next? Hopefully an English or US publisher will love the look of Shimmer too and we’ll see it on the bookshelves here. In the meantime, I just finished my gothic romance, Jar of Hearts, which I’ll be querying agents with soon! To keep posted, visit my website at www.tracybuchanan.co.uk and if you speak German, you simply MUST buy a copy of Sternenwandler here or I’ll mess with your genetic code and turn you into a shapeshifter (actually, that’d be quite cool…)

Auf wiedersehen!

Posted: June 2011

Books, friends, Guest bloggers, Writing

Wunderbar! On getting published in Germany…

My good friend, awesome colleague and super talented writer Tracy Buchanan – AKA Buchy (pronounced Bucky) – blogs about what it’s like to get published in Germany…

Sternenwandler front cover

The book

When I wrote my debut novel Shimmer, I never dreamed it would be popping its publishing cherry in Germany. But just as David Hasselhoff and Bananarama struck a chord with our friends overseas, Shimmer seemed to really connect to German publishers. So, on Valentine’s Day this year, it hit German bookshelves as Sternenwandler (translated as Starshifter).

Tracy Buchanan

Tracy Buchanan

So what is it German teens are getting excited about? Shimmer tells the story of a girl called Tori whose life takes a turn for the weird when she’s saved from the local thug by a horse that morphs into a boy. That boy is Cam, a dude with a genetic mutation that means he can morph into any person or animal he meets. They start really falling for each other but, as Shakespeare once said, the course of true love never did run smooth. Their relationship is tested as Tori contends with her parents’ abusive relationship and Cam struggles to control his abilities – there’s nothing like morphing into your girlfriend’s dad to ruin the moment! Then events start spiralling out of control when Tori discovers her dad captures people like Cam for a living…

So, what’s it like being published in Germany? The same, I imagine, as being published in the UK apart from the fact it’s pretty hands-off from an editorial point of view if your book is in English. Piper Verlag hired a great translator, Vanessa Lamatsch, and she got on with translating the book brilliantly. Beatrice, my editor at Piper Verlag, is a dream to work with and kept me posted with the book cover design and blurb. Then when the publication date approached, we discussed marketing plans: Piper sent out copies to bloggers and we made deleted scenes, playlists and more available via the Piper Fantasy website and these went out via their eNewsletters. And I launched a friendship eCard which you can see on my German website (designed by the fabulous Westfourstreet) and check it out below…

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S4iPbmBgNDM]

So, what’s next? Hopefully an English or US publisher will love the look of Shimmer too and we’ll see it on the bookshelves here. In the meantime, I just finished my gothic romance, Jar of Hearts, which I’ll be querying agents with soon! To keep posted, visit my website at www.tracybuchanan.co.uk and if you speak German, you simply MUST buy a copy of Sternenwandler here or I’ll mess with your genetic code and turn you into a shapeshifter (actually, that’d be quite cool…)

Auf wiedersehen!

Posted: June 2011

Guest bloggers, Marriage

Going freelance: 12 months on

Talented web developer and designer Richard Bateman on taking the plunge, going freelance and raising a glass to a fantastic 12 months in business as westfourstreet

In April of last year (2010) I made the decision to spread my wings and fly solo. I even wrote about it here. The decision itself wasn’t a difficult one to make, but in equal measure it was pretty daunting.

In the weeks leading up to my first official day running my own business and working solely on my own, my feelings were mixed. Ranging from the “oh wow, this is gonna be great” to the “oh shit, where am I gonna bring more clients in from?”.

A lot of networking seemed to be the sensible answer and approach, and in and around Milton Keynes there are quite a few business/networking opportunities. Truth be told, I attended only one. Nice lunch, nice enough people, quite a few nice ties too but after about 20 minutes of being there I decided I’d be better off just focusing on the projects I had on the go and just honestly hope for the best.

Snowball effect

So I worked on the projects that I had on the go and continued to get my work out there. Then it happened. The referrals. One project turned into two, then two turned into four and so on. I’ve said it in so many tweets that I truly love my clients and I honestly do. Who needs a marketing department when your own clients get your name and brand out there?

So when May 1st 2011 cam around, I’d reached the one-year milestone. Looking back I wont deny that I strongly believed that things would go well, but my own expectations have been blown away. So without coming across smug (I am a little tiny bit…) I wanted to mark this day with a pat on the back, but also a huge thanks to all my clients who make every single day a joy doing what I do which is essentially make pixels look good on their laptop or computer.

To be working with hugely respected organisations such as The Open University and hugely successful retail companies such as Argos is truly awesome. As much as it is working with smaller companies. It’s the perfect balance. I’m delighted.
The future

I fidget. A lot. Can’t really settle. Being content only lasts roughly around five minutes with me. There have been on quite a few occasions’ projects that I have had to pass on due to existing and heavy workloads. In the future I’d like to expand westfourstreet and hire a designer or developer. This is something that I can see being very likely before this time next year.

So who knows? But I’ll never take it for granted. It could all fall apart tomorrow but if anybody ever asks me if I recommend going out there on your own, I will always, without any hesitation tell them to “go, do it. Now!”. Bring on the next 12 months!

Posted: May 2011

Guest bloggers

What makes good customer service?

Waitress taking an order in a restaurant

Is customer service dead?

Do we have a right to whinge and moan when the service we’re paying for is substandard? Is good customer service a thing of the past as more organisations move to cost-saving national call centres to deal with enquiries? And what makes us return time and again to our favourite brands? Lauren Hardy guest blogs…

A recent series of experiences at a local café has made me question exactly what constitutes good customer service in the eyes of the consumer. Is it simply service with a smile? Watching your Ps and Qs? Exceeding expectations?

We have a couple of in-house cafes at work, designed to provide food, refreshments and meeting places for staff. Poor customer service is blighting one of the cafes and gaining it a reputation which is making me, for one, avoid it like the plague.

As a paying customer, I don’t appreciate being ignored in favour of a gossip or having the price of my order barked at me with no sign of a please or thank you. I similarly don’t like having someone huffing when I ask to have a jacket potato that doesn’t resemble a dried up turd or when I request the juicy slice of bacon instead of the shrivelled piece of leather they’re about to put in my sandwich.

As a customer parting with money, should I not have the right to choose what I spend it on? And as part of the service industry, is it not the role of staff to offer a pleasant and friendly service to their paying customers?

This got me thinking about why these particular elements of the encounters I’ve had with the café staff make the experience bad, and thus thinking about instances of good customer service and what it was that made these good.

The examples are limited, to be honest, but the ones that exist go all the way to making me feel like a valued customer and a customer who will return to that retailer/restaurant/service again and again and recommend them to people I know.

My first candidate is Starbucks; some love it, many hate it. I am a big fan, it has to be said, purely because I like the coffee and the staff are always friendly, ready to serve and offer suggestions on new things to try. That alone is enough to make me happy. But recently when they got my order wrong they apologised, corrected it and gave me a voucher for a free coffee on my next visit. This may seem insignificant, and perhaps an apology and correction would have sufficed, but this made my shopping experience with Starbucks pleasant. And the way in which they went above and beyond what I expected made me feel like my customer experience really mattered. I’ll continue to shop there because I feel they deserve my money and loyalty.

Another brand I find always excels in customer service is the old faithful John Lewis. In-store staff are always attentive, ready to help and importantly are knowledgeable about what they’re selling. They approach you to offer their assistance, will order an item if it’s not in-stock and do this all with a smile; very important. And having recently experienced their wedding list service I can honestly say that through-and-through John Lewis is a brand that has a polished and efficient customer service regime. My personal contacts at the store dealt with all my queries and requests efficiently and, although a national company, I was always able to reach someone in the wedding list service at my local store; so these were people I had met, knew me and my fiancé, and who saw to our every need personally. Completely the reverse of other department stores which have cut costs by providing one central call centre with none of the warmth or familiarity of talking to a named person at a local branch.

This leads me on to call centres, which are a big bug bear of mine. If I can do anything face-to-face with a company, I will. I hate having to ring someone I’ve never spoken to before and explain time and time again what the query or issue is, never to speak to that same person again. So another of my pleasant experiences has been with Trailfinders – the tailor-made travel agency.

A national company with agencies across the UK, Trailfinders’ website encourages you to contact your LOCAL branch, where you will be able to deal with a named person from start to finish. A named person who, if you go to your local branch in person, you can meet face-to-face. Great. And they have a simple service which recognises your number when you call them so, as a customer, you’re greeted by someone who knows your name and background, can see who you’ve previously dealt with, and can put you through to that person or get them to call you back so you can continue to liaise with someone who is familiar with you and your needs as a customer.

These are only my personal opinions of what has felt like good customer service. What’s important to you as a customer?

Posted: April 2010