2016 in Review

It may be late, but you know what they say, better late than never. January is a time for reflection and it is hard not to get swept up in the ‘New Year New Me’ resolutions fever. We’ve hoped to take a more measured approach to this, allowing a little more time than we would normally before reflecting on the previous year. Partly for pragmatic reasons, we had an extremely busy month and struggled for time to blog and to set our strategic direction for the year ahead.

Following our own advice, we have started by looking back at what has really worked in our business over the past year. It is a great starting point to see what you’ve achieved, how you went about doing it, and to identify the types of project and client you ideally want to work with in the year to come. By being clear about what we’ve enjoyed and done well, we can see exactly who we need to target in order to grow our business. Deciding on the type of project we love to work on means we can aim to do more of it, and to sustain the huge levels of passion and enthusiasm for the work that our clients expect of us.

Here are a few of our highlights from 2016:

  • Drafting an Evaluation Report for a small charity to submit to Big Lottery. On the face of it, this does not sound like the most interesting thing to write, but you’d be wrong. Anna has spent almost three years working with this charity, speaking to service users at focus groups or whole day evaluations, attending volunteer courses or celebration events, mapping performance and identifying the real benefits and outcomes for the people who rely on the charity for support. We have been privileged to see the progress made on the project and to work with the charity to ensure that they are working as effectively as possible to support some really hard to reach and vulnerable families within their community.
  • Proofreading and Editing a manuscript of poetry and songs aimed at children. It almost feels like it isn’t work when you can indulge your love of nonsense poetry and get stuck into a rhyming dictionary on a daily basis. It is fantastic to be trusted with the creative endeavours of another person and to be able to add to it in a small way whilst ensuring it is polished and ready for publication is one of the things we love doing.
  • Undertaking an Organisational Review for a local charity. We were pleased to be invited to review the work of a previous client who had been lucky enough to secure five years’ of funding to continue the work they do in their community. In the process of analysing their current working practice, organisational structure and management practices we helped them identify a few areas to start working on to improve their outcomes. We advised on the strategic steps they should be taking to ensure future sustainability and build capacity (in line with the funding requirements Big Lottery put in place).
  • In terms of Fundraising, we assisted in drafting and editing three successful £250k+ bids for funding, ensuring three charities can continue the inspiring and necessary work they do in their communities. We’re proud to have helped them keep the doors open and the donations flowing.
  • Managed Social Media for a national educational campaign aimed at maintaining and boosting creativity in education. This has been great fun, we’ve assisted in creating campaign materials including posters and online content, and even live tweeted a Q&A session with educational specialists including Professors, STEAM campaigners, teaching union representatives and MPs. It was rewarding to be part of promoting a cause we believe in, creativity is so vital for development and should never be an additional extra at school, plus it was great fun for us to take part in a family activity day that involved getting our hands dirty creating protest art at the National Railway Museum in York.
  • Finally, we’ve taken over management of all Consultation and Engagement activities for a public sector organisation and two small businesses. Maintaining a higher level of impartiality that would not otherwise be available and offering all the efficiency benefits that outsourcing can offer.

This barely scratches the surface, we’ve helped write business plans to get new ideas off the ground, created website copy and blog articles to promote art classes and encourage people of all abilities to get involved, ghost written a performance management e-book and short fictional story, and drafted bids and tenders to cover topics from gardening and building maintenance to furniture supply.

We’re looking forward to more of the same this year and if you’ve got a new project you’d like some professional writing and management consultancy support to deliver we’d love to hear from you. We care deeply about what we do and aim to please. For us, the best kind of customer is a repeat one, and we are passionate about building a great working relationship with our clients, understanding and responding to their needs and implementing solutions that deliver the results they crave.

 

 

 

Changes

I’ve been wanting to write about approaching “change” for a while. With the sad news about David Bowie’s death today, it seemed like an appropriate topic.

Here was a man who lived in a constant state of artistic flux, capable of flowing between movements, genres and careers. Embracing new ideas and giving older ones a new lease of life. He committed so much to a musical concept that he would be forced to create an entirely new character to encompass it.

Change can be daunting. It can be huge, overwhelming even. It can be hard to know where to even begin. You may know something is missing, you might have an end goal in sight, but the thought of making the change can be enough to put some people off even trying.

Be brave. Commit to your idea. Throw yourself into the change, because if you want it, if it is worth your effort, you’ll find the time to make it happen. That’s how I got started working as a freelancer, setting up Active Outcomes, I wanted a new challenge. I wanted to write for a living. It hasn’t been the easiest path, sometimes I wish I was working for someone else, that I could leave the office at the end of the day and switch off from everything. (An almost impossible task when you are running your own business!)

So in honour of David Bowie, a man who inspired me (and probably a lot more people around my age) from the moment I watched The Labyrinth as a kid – here are my thoughts on bringing about change, quoting the lyrics of David Bowie’s ‘Changes’.

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“Still don’t know what I was waitin’ for…”

The first step is the hardest. You want to achieve something. You can write another to-do list, or you can stop procrastinating and take the first step.

Break down your goal so that it is in smaller, more manageable chunks. If your first task will take five minutes, for example, you want to run your idea by a collague and need to set up a quick meeting, you’ll have that one done today. If you can achieve something quickly you’ll feel far more motivated to keep on racking up those quick wins. With your head down solving the problem you’ll see the progress you’re making rather than the stack of work and potential obstacles ahead.

“Turn and face the strange…”

When you’re not working on a specific task – try and anticipate any obstacles before you run straight into them. Plan how you’ll overcome them. Brainstorm as many ideas/solutions/issues as you can think of. You may never need these ideas, but you’ll feel a whole lot better knowing you have them in your back pocket. Plus, sometimes it just feels good to let rip with your creativity and throw a few wild ideas around. What’s the worst that can happen?

“A million dead end streets…”

Test your ideas. Ask around. Chances are, others will have made the mistakes and can point you in the direction of a solution, or at least tell you where the pitfalls are. Be flexible. If at first you don’t succeed that doesn’t mean it’s not still worth pursuing your goal. There isn’t usually a straight path between points A and B. Besides, you tend to learn a lot more on the scenic route.

“Every time I thought I’d got it made, it seemed the taste was not so sweet…”

If it isn’t going well, get some perspective. Step away from the problem. Better yet, get someone else to take a fresh look at it. If they are completely new to your issue they might pick up on something you’ve missed because you’re too close to the problem. I find explaining an idea to someone with absolutely no prior knowledge helps me to understand and describe it in clear and simple terms. It is far too easy to overcomplicate things when you are bogged down in a process fighting against the way you’ve always done something.

Adapt. Be willing to strike an idea off the list, even if it was your favourite. If it isn’t working, there is no sense clinging to it, working around it or tweaking it so that it fits a bit better. You need to define what is good enough. If you have a solution that only just solves the problem, if you look at it sideways, with your head tilted at a certain angle, then it probably isn’t the best possible option. You’ll save yourself a lot more time and trouble down the line if you admit that you need to go back to the drawing board to get the change you need made.

“So I turned myself to face me…”

Following on from the last point, it helps to periodically take stock of what you are doing to achieve your goal and why you are making this change. Life is complicated, things change, priorities shift on a day-to-day basis. Understanding the change, what it involves and why it is important to you can help motivate you to push on and achieve it. If you’re running out of steam, visualising the end result can get you back in gear. If you are no longer filled with an all-consuming passion to get this change made it will help to understand what has happened in the meantime.

One thing that is certain is that change is hard. If you are managing a big change that impacts on others, either personally or professionally, you can feel crushed by their resistance to your ideas. I’ve always found that the best antidote to this is passion. If you can get other people to share your enthusiasm, if you can convince them of the potential reward and invite them to take the journey with you, you’ll make your job a lot easier.

You have to be the biggest cheerleader for your change, you have to live and breathe it, you have to get others excited by the idea and make sure that they know you are the person to see if they want to help make it happen. Throw yourself into it. Genuine enthusiasm is contagious. It might not be the way things have always been, but trailblazers like Bowie never let a thing like that stop them did they? And look at the legacy he has left in his wake.

 

If you need help managing change, or if you just want to talk through a problem, Active Outcomes can help. Contact us today for more information.