Scotland’s Referendum 2014…my first initial observations

scotlands_futureSo yesterday marked a momentous (my words!) occasion when Alec Salmond, First Minister and Nicola Sturgeon, Deputy First Minister gathered the media together in Glasgow to launch their case for an independent Scotland.

They published ‘Scotland’s Future’ – a tome running to 670 pages, 170,000 words and 650 Question & Answers, which is “the most detailed prospectus for the independence of a country that has ever been published”.

Now, this is one side of the story, and one that many of us in Scotland have been calling out for because if there is anything missing from the impassioned pleas, the rhetoric and barbs from one side of the fence to the other, it is the details that we as voting Scots need to make a clear and important decision – one which is a massive obligation and right.

So many people will now be in a position to take their time, ruminate over the white paper and begin to make sense of its content. Within minutes of the publication, we were seeing the predictable commentary from both sides about the content of it – just let us get a chance to read it please!

Anyway, rant over – my main reason for putting fingers to keyboard today (ah we’ll soon look back and say…they used to use their FINGERS?) is to comment about the way in which this information is being delivered to us.

In an almost perfectly executed launch (you’ve got to lose some marks for a website that is having difficulty handling the demand for your PDF!), we saw a whole range of modern & exciting media being used:

  • Live streams on YouTube
  • Blog post by Nicola Sturgeon signposting the way to the document
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Pinterest
  • hashtags to follow the online conversation
  • infographics
  • videos

As a communicator in the modern business world, this is a fantastic case study of how to make best use of all of the tools and techniques available to reach your audience.

Personally, I’m still undecided…before yesterday I had seen very little in the way of definite detail on either side which was convincing enough – as a proud Scot, its enormously difficult to make your head & your heart tell you the same story until you have the depth of knowledge to make a conscious informed decision.

Now all we need is a bit of time to get our head round it all, have the opportunities to ask our own questions, listen to informed debate, not be browbeaten by anyone and not fall out with our neighbours!

Upcoming events:

Here are links to the Scottish Referendum social media accounts:

facebook twitterpinterest-logoyoutube_icon

Have a browse through the conversations using the hashtags – #indyplan is the main one, but you’ll also find people were using #whitepaper #indyref




Women, breadwinners and ‘modern’ families

Hi…my name is Alison Henderson and I’ve got a confession – its been too long since my last blog post! When I started my blog, I was always very clear that I would post as & when I could and not force myself into a rigid schedule of publishing something just for the sake of it. But I wonder if that was simply giving myself an opt-out clause straight away! No matter…what’s important to me in my ramblings is having the luxury of an hour or so to put words ‘to paper’ on a subject which grabs my attention. So here goes…


modern families

Yesterday a report was published which found that Women are the main breadwinner in nearly a third of Scottish homes representing the highest proportion in the UK

I was asked to take part in a BBC Radio discussion in my role with the Association of Scottish Businesswomen – as if that alone isn’t scary enough, I then had to try to sound sensible enough to articulate why that might be!

The other people taking part in the discussion were stay-at home Dads and to be honest, I don’t really think that the opposite side of the coin in this debate is about stay-at home parents – does this mean that one third of families ‘allow’ women to earn the higher salary because the man has opted to stay at home and raise the children – I don’t think so.

I believe that there are several reasons for the ‘change in dynamic’, if you can call it that:

  • women no longer have to leave paid employment when they get married (I was stunned when I learned that this was commonplace in the UK not that long before I started my working life in (whispers) 1986!
  • more women than ever before are successfully going through further education, thereby earning themselves good jobs, and amazing career opportunities
  • women can now see many strong role models in the modern world – successful women who are senior managers, running businesses, holding top roles in education & government
  • women are waiting longer to have families, meaning they have reached a certain level in their careers before having children, meaning they return/remain at that same level
  • and of course its becoming more accepted for Dads to share in the stay-at-home role while the Mum goes back to work
  • there is also the effect of a shift in the economic sectors in the UK,  where perhaps the more traditional male jobs in our manufacturing sectors have been massively eroded.

I’m no economist or expert in this, its just a gut reaction from me which says that this is a slow and steady progression for women in the workplace: beginning to gain ground in career & business opportunities where we’re not vilified for wanting to have a balance of work & family life, where we work hard and show our children that a modern world has room for all sorts of families – Mums who work, Dads who share in bringing up the children – surely that makes for a better world all round?

But, the but in all this (there’s always that blast of cold water isn’t there!) has to be that there are very likely to be many more single parent families in this study – I don’t know why that’s not been explored more – women as the sole earner and parent in a family.

And also from those Dads who were in the discussion yesterday: a very real downside to being the stay-at-home parent…feeling excluded from the support networks that are there for Mums who look after the children. Mums at the school gates, in the parks and the toddler groups who don’t really welcome the Dads into their ranks and the distinct lack of groups for the men – how many Dads and Baby magazines or groups have you ever seen advertised? That made me feel sad – as a modern society how can we have that balance if we don’t provide the right support to let the Mums back to work and make the Dads feel they can actually leave the house with their children and be immensely proud of their role as stay-at-home carer? The societal guilt that a working mother feels is often bad enough, without the added pressure of thinking that her partner is also finding it tough as a consequence of their situation.

Well its a debate that for me swings my emotions between feeling pride that women are doing well, and families are achieving balance, to sadness that as a modern society we can’t applaud both parents for doing what comes naturally!

Dundee kettle-bilers

Dundee kettle-bilers

But I’ve got one thing to leave you with – Dundee is going through an amazing resurgence in popularity at the moment and I’m very proud to be born & bred here. Anyone who’s ever visited Verdant Works, our Jute Museum here, will be able to tell you all about Dundee’s 19th & 20th century ‘kettle-bilers’. Women workers were the backbone of Dundee’s mills, meaning their men stayed at home to look after the children, cook the meals and boil the kettles! So perhaps things haven’t really changed all that much after all!

Have a great day,

Alison :)

Are we ‘Enterprising’?

I’ve been involved in some brilliant events this year, exploring the theme of ‘Enterprise’ and I’m really interested in how enterprise and the smaller businesses underpin our economy.

What often makes me stop & think is the actual terms that we use…enterprising, entrepreneur, business person etc.

I run my own business and have been called an entrepreneur by lots of people – sometimes with a hint of admiration, because they see running a business as an aspiration of their own, or somehow think I’m lucky to be doing it, and on at least one occasion is it was because they thought it was great that I was a risk taker! However, I don’t really see myself as walking around with that label above my head – not sure why?

Being enterprising seems (to me at least) to be a slightly strange way to describe this in a business context – one definition of enterprising is ‘having or showing initiative and resourcefulness’ – and I can see that many business people do exhibit that behaviour, but I believe I’ve been that all through my career – so using the word as an adjective to describe a business owner doesnt feel spot on to me.

At any rate, I suppose what I am getting at is, how will we inspire the people of Scotland – whether they are work for others or are coming out of school & wondering what to do next – to get involved in running their own businesses, generating their own income, fueling the economy and making things happen for themselves if we use words like enterprise, entrepreneur which can mean so many different things, to so many different people?

I guess the best thing we can do is to showcase as many success stories as possible so that people can identify themselves in some way with the person in front of them, whether that’s

  • full-time, running a team of people
  • part-time running a business round a family, second job or caring for someone
  • in partnership with someone else who complements your skills
  • a sole trader working at in a role that they love, producing products or services that people value

There are many ways to run a business, and many many measures of success for the individual involved – and no-one else can (or should be allowed to) make judgements on that success. For me, having the control & ability to ‘make my own money’ and do something that I absolutely love to do is the best (and hardest) way to earn a living that I’ve come across so far!

We have a responsibility to give everyone who wants to do it the resources, information and support that they need – Scotland is a nation with a rich history of invention, innovation, business, leaders and success – and I am proud to be running a business in a beautiful place, with a group of peers who constantly inspire and motivate me – and remind me of why I’m doing it in the first place!

As the Vice-President of the Association of Scottish Businesswomen, I am excited to be part of a team delivering the only Scottish conference aimed at women and business – so get the date in your diary: 9 May 2013 – you definitely won’t want to miss it. It will be a day packed full of interesting speakers; debate; workshops to learn, be inspired and motivated; networking and you will come away from it more determined than ever to build a future for Scotland where women-run businesses will continue to make an enormous impact on our economy – that’s much more than a win, win situation!

WBE Conference

WBE Conference


Dundee is the home of the brave!

I’ve been to several conferences in the last few weeks where the economy, future of the area and business can get ready for future opportunities.

What I have heard has really inspired me, not only as a Scottish business owner, but as a person living, working and bringing up a family in Dundee.

Visit Scotland are involved in a concerted campaign over the next 2 years to bring to life a series of milestones to drive tourism and interest in all things Scottish. From large scale events like the Commonwealth Games & the Ryder Cup to marketing around projects such as the Jubilee, Disney’s new film Brave and the themed years culminating in the Year of Homecoming 2014, there are plenty of opportunities for business to hook into, to help their own marketing work.

Dundee and Angus is a thriving location, and as the sunniest City in Scotland, its easy to see why large capital projects like the Dundee Waterfront and V&A at Dundee are taking place.

Having a bold, forward thinking strategy for a region is just the catalyst that is needed to bring inward investment and attract companies such as Malmaison to open a new flagship hotel.

There are many success stories in the business world too, from BrightSolid’s relaunch of Friends Reunited and their CEO Chris van der Kuyl receiving an award this month from the Institute of Directors; Mackays making amazing jams & preserves in Arbroath, Insights winning Customer Focus award at the Scottish Business Awards, Michelin going from strength to strength at its Dundee plant and many many small businesses continuing to do well in the region, we have much to be proud of and aspire to.

At an Economic Summit in the city yesterday, David Dorward Chief Executive of Dundee City Council led several public and private organisations in an event aimed at ‘laying the foundations for future prosperity in our communities’. Nearly 300 people from local businesses, the education sector, the Chamber of Commerce, the public sector and local & national politicians were in the room to discuss the economic future and positive future developments in Dundee.

And at a National Convention for Youth Employment hosted by Dundee College a large audience heard from Michael Moore MP, Secretary of State for Scotland; Iain Duncan Smith MP, Secretary of State for Work & Pensions plus John Swinney & Angela Constance both MSPs about the issue of how we tackle the future of our young people and ensuring they are well prepared.

However….here is my own personal take on things with a note of caution:

POINT 1: At all of these recent events very very little was done to engage pre, during or after the event via social media. More than 66% of adults use one or more social media platforms – and its widely unknown that 46% of facebook users are aged 45 or older! I certainly found no official event or host organisation use of social media on the day – if they did, they certainly didnt promote it at the events.

At the summit yesterday, there were a handful (less than 10 of us) on twitter using #DundeeEconomicSummit – with a room full of business professionals, I find this quite disturbing. As leaders, engagers in the community and business people, how do we expect to be able to take the brilliant messages & optimism that was in that room and share it if we don’t use a communication tool which is used by so many? There are some very good pieces in the local newspaper today – but I wonder how many of you have seen that?

POINT 2: what is the take-away concrete action from any of these events to keep the audience engaged with the process and build on all the positive things that happened? Apart from yesterday, where we were invited to email someone (without being given their address) if we felt we’d like to take part in ‘something’ in the future, there were absolutely no real next steps for the audiences – no dates to diarise, no websites to look up or register with and absolutely no social media platforms to receive ongoing specific news from.

So in summary – I’ve been very lucky to have attended some exceptional and really inspirational events in the recent weeks but afterwards am simply sent on my way and little by little, as the day job creeps back in, that enthusiasm & energy seeps away and we go back into our individual roles, losing the power of the larger group and movement for future good. So I guess its up to me to make my own next steps count!

MPP logo

Thanks for reading…….Alison

Keeping your Mojo!

As a business owner, its really really easy to be busy with doing the work, keeping clients happy & meeting project deadlines. But there is also the running of the business to be done, and all the necessary (but not so exciting) jobs that come within your job description. For me, I absolutely love the project based side of what we do, the variety of clients that we are working with and meeting so many different people.

But what don’t I like…, filing, and the admin side of what it takes to keep a successful business running. And while I am sharing (hee hee) I will also admit to being in love with social media (facebook, twitter, linkedin, etc etc etc) – and I would like to share a blog post that totally kicked me in the guts recently – in a good way!

I first found Jeff Bullas via twitter and he has a prolific blog which I look out for, and thoroughly enjoy reading. But this one in particular made me really think.

Titled ‘The Secret Behind Every Successful Blogger’, I was intrigued to read more – but what I actually discovered was a re-connection with why I do what I do.

Here is an excerpt from the blog that I connect with in every which way:

“Find Work That is Play

I came across a quote by the famous economist Dr. Paul Samuelson that encapsulates one of the secrets to success in life.

“Never underestimate the vital importance of finding early in life the work that for you is play. This turns possible underachievers into happy warriors.”

Most of us do not have the privilege of discovering this early on in life but stumble upon it in later years. There is no rhyme or reason as to when or how it occurs, it could be an ephiphany or it maybe a slow awakening but if you discover it grab it with both hands, do not ignore it but embrace it with all the energy and optimistic obsession you can muster.

Work that is play is the combination of innate ability and aptitude that combines with passion to create a synergy that lubricates life’s journey.

Sir Ken Robinson in his book “The Element”  says this about discovering being in your element, “it is the place where the things we love and the things we’re good at come together”

Questions You Should Ask Yourself

So how do you find this element? What questions should I be asking to discover work that is play?

Here are some questions you should be starting to ask yourself.

  • What comes easily to you?
  • What do you read about till 2.30 in the morning
  • What gets you up at 4.30am?
  • What do you enjoy doing?
  • What kind of things do people compliment you on?
  • What activities give your spirit energy?  “

I feel very privileged to be running a business, doing a job that I love, surrounded by a brilliant team and meeting lots of interesting people on a weekly basis in our local business community. Of course, sometimes the humdrum does get in the way and I have to force myself to work on some of the tasks which aren’t at the top of my list – but they don’t overwhelm the good feelings.

So I can honestly say that nearly three years on in my business, I’m still motivated to get up at 6am, work through til 10pm if need be, and often get that tingly excited feeling inside which TOTALLY reminds me that I am very lucky to be in the position of running a successful business: helping people realise that perfect event, or rediscover their business goals & vision and create a marketing plan that gets them on track.  I hope you enjoy reading Jeff’s blog and top up your Mojo levels!

And if you’re using twitter (@alisonhendo), facebook or linkedin, say hello!

Alison x

Understanding your target audience


I’ve been inspired to write this post today on the back of yesterday’s Apprentice antics in the UK. Some of the core issues were part of the work I had been doing with a client in the morning, looking at his target audiences and working out how to effectively market his service as ‘products’ that they could identify with.

The task was about creating a new pet food product, marketing it and being judged on the concept & campaign execution.

And to be honest, what both teams did in the short timeframe was really very good – although they did have design agencies and lots of people to help with voice-overs, recording TV adverts etc.

However in my opinion, the biggest mistake that one of the teams made was simply taking too wide a strategic view on what they were doing – FOR THE TASK!

Their product was food for Every Dog – however their strategy was much bigger than this… was to build an ‘Every’ brand which they could see stretching off into the sunset….Every Cat/Every Fish et al. You could see the twinkle in @lord_sugar’s eye at the prospect of such an idea, but for the task at hand they were simply setting themselves up for a fall.

Another thing that went against all marketing principles was during their research when someone in their focus group told them he thought they were aiming too wide.

And I can’t believe that the naff product itself escaped mention on the show – it had no shelf appeal whatsoever. What did work very well for them was the execution of their TV advert – and I also liked the billboard…..but again, the problem with all of that was nothing really tied together – they certainly hadn’t integrated their marketing!

And the other group went for a product that would help owners keep their cats weight under control. They quickly realised that a huge proportion of the moggy market is overweight – we’ve all seen those cats who look like they could do with a treadmill session!

Fat Cat from

So they opted for a product which would make cats healthy, happy and used a play on words to call their product CatSize(Cats eyes….twinkle in the road, geddit?). Their packaging was very good – looked great, had a nice little tape measure along the top to tie in the theme etc. Their advert was sort of wishywashy but you could see that they had the (fish)bones of a really great idea, had executed their product well, and overall they won.

Neither of the project managers this week managed their teams very well – both were head strong and utterly sure that their ideas were the best of the bunch, when they had strong people in their teams who they should have trusted to deliver for the team. I wonder if part of the problem with these tasks is that there simply isn’t enough time to nail the idea, test it and create the campaigns…..there is often a total shift in strategy mid way through a task. But a PM needs to be in control and take these tough decisions, just like a business owner needs to.


Anyway, with my client yesterday we did some segmentation work – splitting his audience into groups of similar people, with similar needs so that we could tailor the messages, and understand how best to market to them.

It is very important to create a picture of your ideal customer within the segments, know what their issues are, look at how you can grab their attention, talk to them in the right language and communicate via the best media for THEM.

Of course, when you are running a small business, you simply want to sell to everyone – but look back at the people who have bought your product already…..they like what you are offering. So doesnt it make sense to go out and find some more of these people? And if you know your existing customers well, you can understand all of the things that you need to do to get more of the same – simple!

In my client’s case, there were four stand-out segments – a couple of whom were regular, straightforward business, and one or two were very niche, but big ticket pieces of work. So we will build a plan to target more of two of the segments, who will bring in smaller, regular work, to keep the business busy – and create some specialised marketing to go after the other work which could bring in a couple of really big and interesting jobs.

And then we also talked about a new product he is thinking of bringing to market, and looked at making it work smarter for him: expanding on what he was planning, but making it an easier sell!

An interesting day all round – and a good example of why I love marketing!

Have a good day,


I love to smile….

I came across this video and wanted to share it with you…..anyone who knows me, knows that I smile A LOT – so its good to know that its actually scientifically proven that it helps me generate good feeling in others, and should make me live longer!

Smiling stops you frowning, reduces stress hormones in your body and has the same effect as really nice chocolate – now doesn’t that sound good to you?

Hope you enjoy the video

Alison x



A very quick survey

Hi there,

We’re in the process of doing some research for a local visitor attraction, and would really really appreciate you taking 5 minutes to complete an online survey.

Here it is…..and you can even leave your details to be entered into a prize draw to win a meal for four including wine!!

Thanks for helping out,

Alison x

What makes a successful event?

I’ve been doing a review of a week-long exhibition that I ran recently where we had 25 businesses involved in promoting their products & services to the public and it has made me think about the whole process of running an event.

I have a very clear strategy in my own head for how I believe a successful event is put together – to be honest it runs exactly on the same principles as any other promotional activity.

When you put together an event, you have to be very careful to consider all of the elements of what you are running – what equipment do you require, what is your programme to be, who is the intended audience, what is a successful outcome. You need to run an event with the same principles in mind as any project – you should break it down into the various key deliverables and then create a time plan, with actions, owners, deadlines etc.

You have various stakeholders to consider – the person who has instructed you to run the event, the attendees, the suppliers & staff at the venue itself, any speakers you may have – all of these people will need to have their needs met in different ways.

And when you are thinking of marketing the event, then think of the AIDA process: Attention – Interest – Desire – Action. You need to create a hook, a real buzz to begin the process of showing people why they have to attend your event. You have to know how & when to communicate with the prospective attendees to attract their attention, the desire to visit. You then need to continue to promote the event and add extras to convince them that they need to take action and come along.

And of course, you have to be clear from the beginning about how you will measure the success of the event. Is it number of attendees, is it profit, is it satisfaction of attendees, is it media coverage? There could be a combination of these factors, but you must be clear what you will measure success on, otherwise you can’t gauge Return On Investment. The investment may not be cash, it may be time, it may be a different resource – as long as you know what you are putting in, you can tell whether you have reached the outcome that you wanted.

Events are an exciting thing to be involved in, I love the buzz that I get from being creative, putting on a great programme and delivering an excellent event which is seamless to the outside world.

I don’t think I’ve ever done an event where something didn’t go wrong – the main thing is not to be fazed by that, but to think on your feet, find a solution to whatever has happened – and keep it away from your stakeholders during the event. Afterwards, it can be good to share what happened, because the chances are they may have realised something was different but not known why – so show them that you had the ability to be aware of what was going on, and took action & ownership to solve the problem before it impacted the event itself – this is a great ability to have – not everyone can do it.

Events are fun, always throw up something unexpected and you have a great sense of achievement when they actually take place. There is a lot of work involved in putting together an event, and when people enjoy it, its a brilliant feeling.



Why I’m happy working on a Sunday!

Afternoon everyone, I’m writing this having enjoyed my extra hour this morning reading the Sunday papers and indulging in a few cups of tea!

Because I run my own business, I’m always juggling my work time and prioritising what to do next.

I am Chair of the Dundee & Angus businesswomen’s network group: Women Ahead and today am fitting in some work for the group which I never get a chance to do during the week.

Our latest event led to me being seated beside one of the leading women in UK business: Lady Susan Rice who is Managing Director of Lloyds Banking Group Scotland.  She gave a Masterclass presentation to a joint lunch that we ran with the Chamber of Commerce and was an inspiring speaker. We heard about her career path and the qualities she believed had helped her to her success in business. I was inspired by her speech and a couple of the things which struck very true for me were:

  • in business, HOW we get there is as important as the end goal
  • we need to be ADAPTABLE, THINK FOR OURSELVES & ENGAGE with others
  • we need to SEIZE OPPORTUNITIES & be QUICK where possible

So here I am, at my desk on a Sunday, updating the Women Ahead members’ database, sending some thank you emails to attendees and updating the website with new events. Being Chair of the group has expanded my own network, let me help the group by adding my event management skills to the mix of committee members and I willingly give my own time to forming a great programme of events for the members. We also raise money each year for a chosen charity, and this year we are supporting Breast Cancer Care.  In August, we held a Strawberry Tea where we raised £1500 PLUS Gift Aid, and we are in the middle of planning our Awards Event where we will add to the charity kitty by holding a raffle & auction.

Anyway, enough from me – I only came onto my blog to accept a comment on a previous post! I think that what is important in this tale is that you never know how you will get your next shot of inspiration when you run a small business, especially if you are working on your own. Its vital to attend events and network, you never know who you will meet or what you will pick up that will drive your business forward.

I hope you have a great Halloween,

Alison x

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