Category: Insights (page 1 of 5)

What is branding and why is it so important for small businesses?

Ahead of our next Introduction to Branding course run by the brilliant team at Anon Agency, we caught up with Founders Anna Tsekouras and Pete Austin to find out more about what branding really is.

Anna Tsekouras and Pete Austin, Founders of Anon Agency and Tutors on City’s Introduction to Marketing Short Course

  1. Can you describe what branding is?

 

It might sound crazy but that’s a tough question! Technically, in terms of the textbook definition, it’s the way you identify your product, service or company which sets you apart from your competitors. But in reality, it’s about much more than that. It’s more than what you can just see – it’s not just your logo, colours and font! Your brand comprises a set of personality attributes, values and beliefs that engage your audience who share those same values. Your brand might stand for body positivity, environmental sustainability or simply be about living luxuriously. Whatever it is, your brand is just like a human personality and its attributes will tell your audience who you are. How does my brand act when they go to a party? What does my brand talk to its friends about? What excites my brand? What scares my brand? Getting to know and defining your brand is integral to your success. A clear and confident brand builds trust and increases your business value.

 

  1. Why do you think an understanding of branding is so important for start-ups and SMEs?

 

Photograph of sardine tin with small shoot growing out of it planted in soil

Growing concerns, photo courtesy of Wilhelm Gunkel

Brand underpins everything you do; your Vision and Mission define why your brand exists, and who you want to reach. That relationship is integral to the success of a brand. If you don’t know who you are, what you stand for and what you believe in; then your audience won’t connect with your brand. And we all know the immense level of competition out there at the moment – now more than ever with small businesses booming since lockdown – so to get a competitive edge is vital.

 

Branding allows you to build relationships with your audience, which can turn them into loyal customers. The customer journey is a complex thing. But one thing that remains consistent, is the impact of a good brand in the process. Whether the customer is spending £1 or £10,000, branding could be the very reason to make their decision. If you had to choose between a business with clear and confident branding, and a business that hasn’t made this effort, you probably know which one you’d trust more. Branding helps you show potential customers that you’re an established, credible business.

 

  1. Can someone else create a branding strategy for your own business, or should you try and do it yourself?

 

Both! Firstly, it starts with you. You know the business you want to build and the brand you want to create. Start by defining the service and product you’re offering and think about why you exist. What motivated you to launch your business? What makes you different? Who do you want to reach? Once you start brainstorming these answers, it might then help to source external help in creating a brand strategy. Brand experts will help you define, articulate and communicate your brand’s mission and vision to your audience – those ‘next steps’ of bringing your brand strategy to life are often best achieved with the help of experienced brand experts.

 

  1. At what point in developing a business should you start to think about your brand identity?

 

As soon as you start to think about launching your business and you’ve worked out your product or service, it’s a good idea to start thinking about your brand values, attributes and its ‘personality’. The sooner you get the brand defined, the better you’ll be able to connect with your audience. A quick way to get the ball rolling with your brand identity is to focus on the ‘why’ you exist.

 

  1. Can you make changes to your brand as you go along or do you need to stick to the one you have?

 

Photograph of person in red sweatshirt holding iphone with red image of Nike tick

Nike image, courtesy of Kristian Egelund

To a degree, you can change as you go along. Your brand will probably change as your business develops, but it should always stay true to the brand values you define at the start. If you start to change those values (and there are some big companies who’ve tried, and failed, to do that) then you risk alienating your audience who connect with your values, mission and vision. Brands that endure move with their customers and consistently reflect their changing lives and concerns. Nike is an obvious but great example – Just Do It is still their overarching brand slogan (and has been since 1987) but more recently they’ve flexed their brand to move away from aspiration for athletic achievement, and embraced the way society and sport has advanced. Two examples are their 2018 campaign selecting Colin Kaepernick, an outcast American football player and civil rights activist, as the face of its new global advertising campaign, emphasising their brand’s position as a vehicle for social change. And more recently in 2022, their Play New campaign which embraces trying and failing, not just achievement. Their campaign slogan is “no matter how many times you fall down, you’re still coming out on top.” Both the 2018 and 2022 examples still keep Nike’s original brand values at their core, but they show how you can flex the brand campaigns as you go along, if it’s done carefully.

 

  1. How important is social media in supporting your brand?

 

Love it or hate it, social media is an invaluable way of talking directly to your audience. Not only can you use social media tools to identify your audience (demographic, age, location and interests), it enables you to have a two-way conversation with that audience – gathering vital feedback, intel and being able to shape and adapt your brand to build awareness, customer loyalty and increase your audience and bottom line! Unlike previous methods of advertising and branding, where the audience were simply on the receiving end of marketing campaigns – social media allows you to have real-time conversations, and actively make your audience feel part of your brand and become brand ambassadors.

 

  1. There are a ton of free online videos about branding. Why is it important to study a course with tutors available in real-time?

 

Well, that’s precisely why studying a course with tutors in real-time is so vital – the sheer quantity of brand-related videos and articles out there is insane. There’s so much information (a lot of which is just pulled together with no real expertise to get YouTube views or website hits) that it would be impossible to know which is good advice or good theory and which is not. On a course with expert tutors, you get case studies brought to life and explained to you so you can understand how successful brands have applied the theories to achieve their goals. An interactive course with tutors allows you to get tailored advice and to navigate the steps you need to bring your own brand to life in line with industry standards. And plenty of time is built in for you to ask questions – about your own brand – and tap into the years of brand experience from the tutors; something you simply can’t do with an online video.

 

  1. What are your three top tips for anyone thinking about their brand?

 

  1. Audience – it’s vital to know who you are targeting with your brand. It helps to think of them as a person (or create a ‘persona’ for them) – their age, interests, ambitions, motivations and pain points.
  2. Vision and Mission – You need to answer the ‘why’ behind your brand before anything else. If you don’t know why you exist, how can you expect your audience to connect with you and, crucially, engage with you over one of you competitors?
  3. Research how your brand fits into the market – Consider your unique selling point (USP) in helping you to think about how you’ll stand out against your competitors. It’s always good to do some competitor analysis before launching a brand; it helps you define what can make you different.

 

Thanks so much, Anna and Pete! If you’d like to find out more about all things Branding, why not join our next Introduction to Branding short course starting on 21st November. The course is aimed at start-up owners, entrepreneurs, small business owners, communications and marketing professionals or anyone interested in learning how to communicate their brand more effectively, and learn what makes up ‘a brand’.

For more on all our short courses, visit our home page

For any questions email our team on shortcourses@city.ac.uk

5 reasons why now is a good time to learn how to write crime fiction

imeCrime fiction is having a boom time, spurred on by the phenomenal success of books like Richard Orsman’s Thursday Murder Club series. Read on for more on why now is a great time to learn how to write crime fiction.

 

 

  1. Crime fiction is an incredibly popular genre

Crime is one of the fastest growing genres in UK fiction book sales, with Nielsen’s reporting a 19% volume growth in UK book sales for crime and thrillers in 2020.

 

  1. Crime fiction translates

Write a successful crime novel and the chances are it will be adapted into a film or onto the small screen or stage. From TV staples such as Midsomer Murders and Wallander to box office hits like Murder on the Orient Express and The Talented Mr Ripley, all began life as crime novels.

 

  1. Crime fiction has some of the most loyal fans

From Hercule Poirot to Philip Marlowe, from Inspector Morse to John Rebus, at the heart of the best crime fiction is an unforgettable detective. Create a detective your readers love and you’ll have them clamouring for the next book in the series.

 

  1. Crime fiction: a genre for our times?

From climate change to global pandemics, we live in increasingly uncertain times. While crime fiction delves into the darker side of life, ultimately justice prevails – the criminal is caught, the mystery is solved – and readers are left with the, however temporary, relief that order has been restored.

 

  1. Crime fiction is versatile

Study crime fiction and you’ll discover plenty of sub-genres to sink your teeth into (no pun intended). From cosy crime – currently having a moment due to the incredible success of Richard Orsman’s Thursday Murder Club series – to psychological thrillers epitomised by City Novel Studio alumna and Sunday Times bestselling crime writer Harriet Tyce, to hardboiled fiction, courtroom dramas and legal thrillers, there’s a sub-genre for everyone!

 

 

City’s Short Courses offer a ten-week Crime and Thriller Writing course taught by Sunday Times bestselling thriller author Caroline Green. Read here for her top tips on how to write crime fiction. Or click here to book her next course starting in January 2023.

 

And don’t just take our word for it: in the words of former student Darah O’Reilly, it’s ‘an outstandingly well put together course from a leading crime writer.’

 

For more on City’s Writing Short Courses visit our home page and keep an eye out on this blog for more updates on our growing list of published alumni.

 

9 reasons employers value lifelong learning – and why you should, too

Encompassing everything from academic study to professional or personal development, lifelong learning has come a long way since its origins in the 1970s. Today many see lifelong learning as the best way to help bridge the growing UK skills gap and adapt to a changing labour market (the current government even committing to ‘lifelong loan entitlement’, by 2025).

 

Read on to find out why employers increasingly value lifelong learning, and why you should, too.

 

  1. Employability

Pursue lifelong learning and you’ll stand out as someone who is flexible, innovative and enquiring – all traits employers highly value when recruiting.

  1. Job Retention

Developing yourself and your skillset whilst already in a job means your employer is more likely to see you as an asset and therefore someone they want to retain.

  1. Money Talks

The UK’s labour market is in flux. Investing in your own personal, professional or academic development will put you in a much better position to apply for a new role, get a promotion or even ask for a pay rise. It might even lead to a lucrative side hustle – no bad thing in these uncertain times!

  1. Competition

With the pace of technological advances in recent years, if you can equip yourself with in-demand skills, such as cyber security or programming, you’ll gain a competitive advantage over others – something employers actively seek.

  1. Adaptability

Globalisation has led to a demand for a more flexible skillset that can adapt to current and future needs. Digital literacy and innovative problem-solving are now as much valued by employers as degree level qualifications; lifelong learning can help with both.

  1. Ready for work?

In a recent CBI education and skills survey, 45% of CBI members ranked “‘work readiness’ as the most important factor they look for when recruiting rather than qualifications.” Lifelong learning helps you to not only gain new skills but also how to apply those skills.

  1. Team Happy

Post-pandemic, employers increasingly recognise the importance of staff well-being. With lifelong learning now proven to have a positive impact on individuals’ mental health your employer is much more likely to support your personal, professional and academic development.

  1. Brain Power

With an ageing UK population and today’s workforce facing a longer working life, employees need all the brain health and power they can get! Studies have shown that those who engage in lifelong learningreduce their risk for cognitive decline.’

  1. Super-hero Pose

Lifelong learning is a virtuous circle: the more you acquire new knowledge and skills the more motivated you are to continue to develop yourself. This can lead to greater confidence in the workplace, positively impacting your ability to take on new challenges and contribute to your role. A win-win for your boss!

 

When it comes to deciding where to begin your lifelong learning journey, there are many places to choose from. So why choose City Short Courses? Part of a world-class London university, City Short Courses have been at the forefront of lifelong learning for over a decade. With over 200 courses on offer across a broad range of subjects – from computing to business, creative industries, law, languages and creative writing – there’s something for everyone. All our courses are taught by experts in their field so you’ll get practical, real-world tips and tricks you can apply in your personal and professional life.

 

Delivered online in small, interactive groups, City’s short courses are designed so that you can join from anywhere in the world. For more information visit our website. Or email shortcourses@city.ac.uk to be put in touch with one of our subject coordinators and find out more about how City Short Courses can help you begin your lifelong learning journey.

Languages classes – are they really worth it?

With so many free online language apps to choose from, we have to ask the question: is it still worth taking a formal language class?

We’ve all been there. That feeling of beginners enthusiasm. You reach for your phone several times a day, amazed by your own progress. You show everyone down the pub your new language app and even impress them by ordering your drinks in Japanese (to the bewilderment of the bartender).

As the days and weeks roll on, you find this enthusiasm starts to dwindle. The phrases begin to feel repetitive, and although you are getting a lot of the grammar right, you’re not quite sure why certain rules apply (and Googling the answer only leads you down a rabbit hole).

You start forgetting to log in; and when your mate down the pub introduces you to their second cousin visiting from Kyoto, you suddenly feel too self-conscious to say a word. You doubt your pronunciation and realise that, unless you randomly announce to the group that you have brown hair, you actually have very little to contribute towards a conversation.

Confidence knocked, you decide to have a little break from the apps. You receive notifications on your phone reminding you to do your daily practice and the guilt starts to creep in. The notifications are muted, the app is soon forgotten and all your left with is that sinking sense of disappointment.

Of course there are plenty benefits of apps to help you learn a language. But to use them to replace live and interactive classes, well it’s just not the same thing. Like the time in 1997 when your dad bought you a Tamagotchi instead of a puppy. I doubt you would have forgotten to feed your puppy, and definitely wouldn’t have traded it after three weeks for a packet of Opal Fruits and an Irn-Bru.

So, what makes language classes a more successful way to learn?

1. You’re joining a supportive community

Let’s face it. Daily apps can feel monotonous and, quite frankly, lonely. When you join a language class, learning becomes a shared experience. You greet one another, talk about recent events – increasingly more in your chosen language – and support each other.

You realise that other people also struggle with pronunciation and your tutor shares fun ways to improve this. You begin to form friendships. You get one-to-one support. You start to look forward to seeing one another each week and even organise a film night to watch the latest anime. This sense of community is near impossible to achieve with a language app.

2. You will build confidence

For many of us Brits, language apps are perfect. We can learn the language without having to actually embarrass ourselves engaging in conversation. No wonder these apps have such widespread appeal!

There is just one small problem with this approach, though. The only way to really learn a language is to have a go. As much as we would love to burrow away in our rooms and reappear three months later fluent in Japanese, in reality, you will make little practical process if you don’t practice with others.

This means putting ourselves in a vulnerable position and being open to making mistakes. Many, many mistakes! This is what language classes encourage you to do. There’s no hiding behind an app, you’re pushed out of your comfort zone and into real life conversations.

But the beauty of language classes is that we’re all in the same boat. Everyone is just as scared and everyone is just as inexperienced as you are. Tutors create a safe and supportive environment so that you can have a go and make mistakes. And next time you meet a local, you’ll feel confident and prepared.

3. You’ll go beyond basic phrases

Most language learning apps will take you through a standard list of sentences and over time you begin to recognise words and their meaning. They tend to use repetition to remember phrases, which can be effective, but also quite tedious.

In live classes, you’ll learn the tools to create your own sentences and engage in free-flowing conversations about topics that are relevant to you. They don’t continually repeat phrases but revisit them within different contexts to solidify and expand your understanding. This is a much more engaging way to learn.

4. You’ll learn about culture and customs

A good language class shouldn’t just teach you how to communicate, but also how to understand the language within a cultural and historical context. This helps you to abide by social norms and be respectful when you use the language. It also makes learning a lot more fun! You’ll examine newspaper articles, listen to audio clips and watch videos to fully immerse yourself into your chosen language.

5. The content is tailored around you

One of my gripes of language learning apps is the one-size-fits all approach. There’s no flexibility to tailor content around your interests and, worse still, there’s no chance to ask questions or seek clarity.

Learning is a lot more interesting and useful if you can apply it directly to your own experiences and situations. It’s a great way to get to know your fellow classmates too.

Opportunities to ask questions can also help us to understand the language better. Rather than just accepting a rule of a language, we can find out why this rule exists –it’s much easier to learn when things make sense!

6. You’re making a commitment

The problem with apps is that they are too easy to quit. They can send you a dozen emails and daily reminders but the fact is there is no accountability. If you participate in a live class, you will have a dedicated time to learn. People look forward to seeing you each week. You’re set homework you’ll need to complete. This commitment encourages you to go the distance.

So that’s it. Are languages classes worth it? Yes. Unless, of course, you own a Tamagotchi.

You can find out more about our language courses and book on the City website.

Meet our Indesign and Illustrator tutor, Helen Pummell

Following our series of interviews with the team behind City’s short courses, today we meet Helen Pummell, tutor on our Adobe Indesign and Illustrator short courses.

Portrait of tutor Helen Pummell

Helen Pummell, Adobe Indesign and Illustrator Tutor

1.Please tell us about yourself and your background

Since 1996 I’ve been a creative art worker and graphic designer specialising in print media and advertising. And for more than twenty years now I’ve also been a part time creative software lecturer at City, University of London.

I’ve prepared in-store graphics, bus and taxi wraps, brochures, flyers, posters, branding and adverts in every major newspaper in the UK.  I’ve worked with educational establishments of world renown like The University of Brighton and Oxford University, also some of the UK’s best-known high street brands like Coca-Cola, Miss Selfridge and Tesco.

2. What do you teach at City?

I teach the Adobe InDesign and Illustrator courses at City. They cover all the fundamentals needed to begin using the software professionally. The design world can be daunting to break into and learning some industry language and processes can give students a valuable advantage, so my courses cover more than just software. My aim with teaching is to give students the tools to do their own creative thing.

3. Why do you think it’s important to learn skills like Adobe Illustrator?

Illustrator is a fundamental part of the Adobe Creative Cloud suite, the industry standard software. It can be used for print, digital, motion graphics, 3D, logo design as well as a broad range of illustrative purposes.

4. What are your top three tips for learning Adobe Illustrator?

  1. Regular practice as often as possible – even if just for twenty minutes. Familiarity will improve everything.
  2. Look at professional examples. Anywhere you can follow vector artists such as Instagram, Dribble and Behance. Exploring professional portfolios is brilliant for keeping up to date with the latest trends and getting an idea of what is possible with the software.
  3. Try using Illustrator’s Harmony Rules to build colour palettes for all your creative projects. It’s a powerful and underused feature that can make your work stand out and accelerate your design skills.

5. Why would you recommend learning Adobe Illustrator at City?

The format is excellent for a wide range of different learners. Setting aside weekly time over 10-weeks really gives learners the opportunity to develop their knowledge and new skills. It’s a great length of time to get to grips with the fundamentals. The opportunity to practice new digital skills with guided face to face support allows students to learn at their own speed. I also make extensive notes and practice files available to all students on Moodle, City’s online learning platform, to support any personal practice during the week and allow them to prepare for, or revise, lessons as suits them best.

Thank you, Helen! For more on the Adobe Indesign and Illustrator courses Helen teaches, visit our design courses page.

For more on all City’s computing short courses, visit our home page here.

 

Meet our Photoshop tutor, Pete Polanyk

Portrait of Pete Polanyk

Pete Polanyk, City’s Photoshop tutor

In another interview with the team behind City’s Short Courses, today we meet Pete Polanyk, our Introduction to Photoshop short course tutor.

Please tell us about yourself and your background

I’m Pete Polanyk and I’ve been working in the design industry for near on 30 years and have been teaching at City for 20 years. How I actually got into the field was in the early 1980’s I wrote a music fanzine and sometime later undertook a night class in Magazine Design & Production at The London College of Printing (now the LCC) and it evolved from there. I’ve worked in national newspapers, advertising agencies and publishing houses as well as working for myself.

In my spare time I write a music/gardening blog, compile musical mixes for a shortwave radio show and produce electronic music, self-releasing it on my own label and designing the associated visual material.

What do you teach at City? 

I teach the Introduction to Adobe Photoshop course on a Wednesday evening. The course is an introduction to one of the industry’s top image creation and photo editing software.

Over the ten weeks we learn the fundamentals of the application, how to create and edit your own digital image/artwork using a variety of techniques and I also cover some Graphic Design related topics. We start right from the bottom and work our way up.

Why do you think it’s important to learn skills like Photoshop?

It’s a very versatile programme. By learning it, you could add it to your present work skills, you could develop your own creative output or it could be a way of getting your foot in the door into the design industry. Who knows where it might lead you.

Three surfers in the water at sun set

Learn Photoshop to understand how to manipulate images

Over the years we’ve had students wanting to learn it for many reasons. We had a person who wanted to use it just to do some simple amends on promotional material for her own business as she was fed up with paying a designer an extortionate amount for doing small corrections. We had a deep sea diver who wanted to learn the skills to make a poster to promote his local diving club and a vicar who wanted to correct photographs for a parish magazine.

What are your top three tips for learning Photoshop?

  1. Learn the keyboard shortcuts rather than using the pull-down menus, it’s a lot easier and will save you a lot of time.
  2. Set yourself tasks like simple design jobs, something that may be useful for yourself or your workplace and take it from there (promotional material, a simple web banner or greetings card etc). If you’re working on a project with a purpose it will keep your concentration and hold your interest for longer.
  3. Practice, practice and practice! It’s like anything, you get better by putting more hours into it. Little and often is a good thing too. Keep at it and you’ll get there.

Why would you recommend learning Photoshop at City?

The application is taught in small groups in a friendly atmosphere over ten weeks, two hours a week. I set three simple projects that you can complete over the term which gives you more practical skills with the programme as well as some work to show for the course.

It can be a diverse class with students from different walks of life (it’s not just people from a design related background) and it does you no harm being around people from other disciplines who take different approaches when it comes to learning something new or tackling photoshop projects.

Thank you, Pete!

Pete Polanyk teaches City’s Introduction to Photoshop Short Course. For City’s  other graphic design short courses, visit this page.

To see our full range of Computing Short Courses, visit our short course home page.

 

Meet Our AutoCAD tutor, Thomas Haycocks

Cavity 777 Sculpture by Nick Ferguson

Continuing our series of interviews with some of the team behind City’s short courses, today we meet our AutoCAD tutor Thomas Haycocks.

Please tell us about yourself and your background

Macena Octopus Sculpture in conjunction with artist Suzie Wright

I come from a creative background in design and have used AutoCAD (computer Aided Design) in a wide range of projects over many years. I very much enjoy the accuracy and visual quality that AutoCAD brings. The drawings I produce are used by companies and often transferred directly to Computer Aided Machinery to be manufactured. I have worked on large scale building projects, exhibition designs and public sculptures. I have taught for over 20 years to all levels and very much enjoy the interaction that teaching brings.

 

What do you teach at City?

I run the AutoCAD courses. We offer a range of courses starting from beginners through to courses that provide students with a greater depth of knowledge and a higher professional level of skill.

Drawing by City AutoCAD Short Course Student

At City, the courses are taught through demonstrations using AutoCAD, the knowledge learnt is then reinforced and embedded through AutoCAD based tasks. The AutoCAD classes are structured so that each week a new topic is covered. Together, these classes combine to make the whole course.

Why do you think it’s important to learn skills like AutoCAD?

AutoCAD is used across many industries and professions. The programme is at the forefront of Computer Aided Design. Whether you want to use it for your own personal use or to build your employment skill set, it offers the ability to accurately draw up your tasks and manipulate the drawings to exactly how you want them.

What are your top three tips for learning AutoCAD?

  1. Understand the AutoCAD interface – This will enable you to gain confidence in using the programme so that you can draw and present exactly what you want.
  2. Use AutoCAD to draw up your own projects – This will enable you to become fluent in using the tools, commands and features of AutoCAD that are relevant to you.
  3. Explore AutoCAD – There are many features in AutoCAD that can be found by exploring the commands. Not all of them are easy to find, but once you know them, they can help in the construction and presentation of drawings

Why would you recommend learning AutoCAD at City?

The tutors are experienced and highly knowledgeable in their fields. The team at City running the short courses are very professional, organised and provide a strong support service.

Thank you, Thomas!

To find out more about the courses Thomas teaches at City, check out AutoCAD beginners and more advanced short courses.

For more information on all our Computing Short Courses visit our web page here.

Two Published Alumni Usher City Writes Summer 2022 into the Heatwave 

By Rebekah Lattin-Rawstrone

City Writes Summer 2022

Running since April 2016, it is a huge privilege to be involved in the fantastic showcase event for City’s Short Creative Writing Courses, City Writes. This term’s event was no exception. Held over Zoom on Thursday 7th July (our ears tuned briefly away from the politics of the day), City Writes Summer 2022 not only had two brilliant published alumni from the same Novel Studio cohort, Attiya Khan and Simon Culleton, it also made space for some wonderful new writing coming from the competition winners made up of current students and alumni. What a talented bunch!

 

We began with the competition winners. Jordan McGarry, Narrative Non-Fiction student kicked things off with a fantastic piece, ‘The First Spring’, about her recently deceased mother. The chat was filled with responses to her careful observations of grief and insightful turns of phrase. Her biography had told us she was planning to be braver with her work in 2022 and we hope this will mark the beginning of a habit as we all want to hear more of Jordan’s writing.

 

We headed in an entirely different direction next with a witty piece on community division, ‘We Didn’t Start the Fire’, written and read by Short Story Writing alumnus, Jonathan Gallard. Giving us two perspectives and navigating the complex origins of divisive tradition, this was a wonderful piece of writing.

 

We returned to grief with the next reader, Orsolya Kiss-Toth. A Writers’ Workshop alumna, Orsolya read an extract of her second novel, Nadi Leaves, in which the main character confronts the studio of her recently deceased father and ends up painting her grief into a self-portrait in a way that mimics her father’s artistic process to moving affect.

 

Three times winner of the City Writes competition and another Short Story Writing alumna, Su Yin Yap read for us next. She gave us a non-fiction piece, ‘Notes on Pregnancy’ the form of which was much appreciated in the chat. Moving from facts about pregnancy to a personal account of their emotional and physical effects, the piece viscerally remembered what it feels like to be pregnant.

 

Recent Novel Studio graduate Richard Bowyer then took us into the world of satire with an extract from his novel, The White House. A hilarious letter to the prime minister called ‘The Manton Ultimatum’ had us all giggling as we contemplated the idea of one village in Essex forming an independent state. Roger Rowntree was a favourite character of the Novel Studio 2021/2022 cohort and he proved a hit with this City Writes audience too.

 

Following Richard, we listened to our last competition winner and Short Story Writing alumna, Lia Martin read her story about lost love, ‘Church Bells’. Such a sharp, witty, and painfully moving account of trying to process the end of a relationship. We can’t wait to read what Lia writes next.

 

The end of Lia’s piece marked a move into the second half of the City Writes event as we heard from alumni Attiya Khan and Simon Culleton. Both writers published their debuts in 2021 with exciting independent publishers. We heard two short readings and then moved into a Q&A.

 

Attiya Khan’s debut novel Ten Steps To Us

Attiya’s debut, Ten Steps to Us, is a Young Adult novel that readers have described as ‘the perfect teen romance that covers religion, romance and diversity’. She read the scene in which devout, hijab wearing, Aisha is saved from Islamophobic bullying at a bus stop by the handsome non-Muslim, Darren. Where would this encounter lead? Published by Hashtag Blak, this is a story you’re going to need to buy to get the whole story.

 

Simon Culleton’s debut novel Shadows of Fathers

Simon Culleton then read from his debut, Shadows of Fathers, published by Stairwell Books, about one father’s fight to stay close to his children in a journey across geographical, cultural and emotional borders. He took us into a difficult conversation with his children about where he had been and why he didn’t live with Mummy anymore. Had the children missed him? Why didn’t Mummy and Daddy get on anymore? When he said Mummy and Daddy got on the way that a cat and a dog did, things got complicated… Funny, poignant and moving, it was a great introduction to the complexities of the novel.

 

The Q&A explored inspirations, from Attiya’s desire to see Muslim young women represented in fiction in realistic, non-Islamophobic ways, to Simon’s need to show the father’s perspective in divorce proceedings. We looked at their publishing journeys from the courses they took to the agents that rejected them to the publishers that championed them. We explored what they had enjoyed most about getting their work into the public domain, what they were working on now and what their writing routines were like. Both Attiya and Simon had some fantastic tips for writers and spoke of how important it was to follow your passion in your work.

 

You can hear the full Q&A and all of the readings by watching a recording of the event here.

It was an inspiring night and I can’t wait for the next City Writes when we’ll be joined by the amazing writer and another Novel Studio alumna, Elizabeth Chakrabarty whose debut novel, Lessons in Love and Other Crimes, published by The Indigo Press in 2021, was longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize 2022. Look out for competition and event dates coming soon to this blog.

A Cautionary Tale of ‘Reply All’

We’ve all been there… you were either the recipient or the sender of an accidental reply-all email. It may have made you cringe. It may have made you wonder whether you should acknowledge your mistake. Should you apologise? Should you notify the sender? One thing is certain, it looks unprofessional. Writing for Business student, Karen Young, gives her top three reply-all blunders: how to deal with them, and how to avoid them.

 

Ready to send?

1.The time you didn’t check your email before replying all. The result: you’ve sent a comment that was meant specifically for one colleague and ended up offending the other external recipients.

We’ve all done it: hit reply-all by accident, whether it’s on your mobile or desktop, and not checked that all-important email before sending. You may have made a comment to your colleague and cc’d the external recipients. It could have been a response meant only for your colleagues.

What should you do? Acknowledge that you sent the email to the external recipients by mistake. And apologise: they could have been customers or third-party suppliers.

My advice: always triple-check your email before sending. Check the recipients and cc’s, the subject, and the body text. You will never regret doing so.

 

2.When a flurry of people reply-all to the whole company

A company-wide email is sent. The topic could be an upcoming event, a milestone, or a financial goal reached. If senior management acknowledge this, fine. But there’s no need for everyone to say “Fantastic”, or “Okay”, or “Thanks”. This type of reply-all clogs up inboxes and the server.

My advice: if you have a meaningful reply, select only those who need to hear it.

Think before you click?

3.You’ve accidentally replied all, and then those in copy purposefully reply-all to let you know you’ve replied all!

My advice: If you need to let the person know they’ve made the mistake of replying all, let them know. Everyone else on copy will already know. Reply to the sender only.

To aid the fight against the reply-all annoyance, Microsoft have helpfully enabled a feature to deal with email storms – a Reply All Storm Protection Feature. Check whether your organisation has this. It could save many headaches.

Above all, consider whether a reply-all is necessary and always triple-check your emails. It may take a few minutes when time is precious but it is always worthwhile!

Triple check before you hit send

About the author

Karen Young has worked in secretarial / assistant roles for 24 years in three different industries – law, private equity, and most recently mining. She holds a Level 3 Professional Diploma in Law through the Institute of Legal Executives. Karen enjoys learning to maintain her professional development, including the very rewarding City’s Writing for Business short course.

For more on the Writing for Business course Karen took, visit our webpage.

We are also running our Writing for Business course this summer as a one-week intensive. For more information visit the course page here.

To find out more about our vibrant writing short course portfolio, including our summer schools, visit our website here.

 

Business as Usual?

Do we create our own business stereotypes and, if so, where do these  misconceptions come from?  Writing for Business student, Stacey Steele, investigates.

Business As Usual?

I’m going to be completely honest. If you had said the word business to me three years ago, I would have visualised a group of people sat round a large table wearing smart, but monotonous, clothing. The group would mostly be men (I’m ashamed to say) and they would be listening and nodding along to their leader without question. For some reason, I always thought the environment would be tense and uptight, and personalities or fresh ideas were best left at the door if business was going to get done.

Why on earth I had these misconceptions, I do not know. I certainly never thought businesses should be run like that. I can only assume my own life experiences, which were probably hugely contributed to by certain TV shows like ‘The Apprentice’, had moulded a fixed stereotype of business settings. Based on my own knowledge and skills, it didn’t feel like it was a world I was qualified to be in and therefore definitely best left to the ‘experts’.

The dictionary definition of business is very loose. Dictionary.com describes it as ‘an occupation, profession, or trade’, ‘the purchase and sale of goods in an attempt to make a profit’ or a ‘person, partnership, or corporation engaged in commerce, manufacturing, or a service; profit-seeking enterprise or concern’. So, my own fixed view of what was basically Mr Banks at work (from the 1964 film, Mary Poppins) was restrictive, and had major potential to hold me back.

Business Revelations

Transferable skills: easy as A, B, C

Before my current role (as an Operations Manager), and for most of my adult life, I worked in education. Not strictly a business, but I would argue I gained most of my transferable skillset there. Experience quickly taught me that managing a class of children, all with different learning targets, and being able to adapt and develop to meet individual needs are all invaluable skills in a business setting. Prior to that I had various jobs in an office, shops, and a photography studio – all of which were clearly businesses. Places where goods or services were offered in exchange for payment and with the intent to make a profit. But why had I hastily dismissed these settings as being part of the business world, and therefore myself included?

It seems when we think about stereotypes and fixed ideas, we may not be self-reflecting enough. Although it is important to recognise that our own unconscious biases and stereotypical thinking can be reinforced by structural inequalities and prejudices, are we also restricting ourselves? By leaving teaching and joining the business world I suddenly had to address my own ignorance. I quickly discovered that these fixed notions of working in business were causing me to limit myself. But is it any easier to challenge misconceptions when they are our own?

What’s in a Job Title Anyway?

A possible route to feeling intimidated by business is the array of officious-sounding job titles floating around in businesses. These have the potential to create a fixed mindset of the type of character a role requires. People in senior roles may be expected to behave in a certain way, with a system of hierarchy affecting how colleagues interact with each other. But this behaviour may be assumed rather than anticipated and by continuing the cycle, rather than challenging stereotypes, nothing changes.

Doing it Differently

There are many outliers in business. Those that don’t worry about what has gone before. Industry pioneers we read about and by whom we’re inspired. I sometimes wonder if ‘imposter syndrome’ is commonplace for potential trailblazers. Are the ones who would dare to do it differently, the very people who don’t feel they belong?

Blaze your own trail

There is a risk that individuals with a unique approach could feel intimidated and dissuaded from entering a profession because of the barriers they interpret are there. Many factors can affect our opportunities, including education, gender, race, disabilities and social background. But the drive for greater diversity is gathering pace and blinkered views of who sits in the boardroom are slowly being cast out. Nevertheless, we also need to address our own self-limiting and obstructive attitudes.

Smashing Stereotypes

Create your own possible

So how do we avoid becoming victims of a perpetual self-fulfilling prophecy? What can we do to stop our preconceptions of the business world and ‘how it’s done’ from leading us to believe we don’t have a place in it? Essentially, be the change. Don’t be influenced by unwritten rules or intimidated by grand job titles. Becoming a CEO doesn’t mean you have to stay in your office and taking a trainee role shouldn’t mean others can’t learn from your ideas. Breaking conforms and challenging expectations takes bravery, but it’s the only way outdated stereotypes (even fictional ones) can become a thing of the past.

About the author

After becoming a mum at 18, Stacey Steele studied part-time whilst working in education and eventually became a qualified teacher. She decided to change direction after her husband took on his own business, and moved into a role managing operations within the company. Stacey took City’s Writing for Business Short Course with Jenny Stallard.

City are running a week-long Writing for Business Summer School in August. For more information visit our webpage.

To find out more about our vibrant short writing course portfolio, visit our website.

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