Building stronger connections through improved use of language

IMGP8686While written communication is important, we also love the spoken word.  Here Sarah shares some tips about sharing your messages verbally.
Recently I watched a feature film in German for the first time in about 20 years. And I understood it! And I laughed at the jokes! As a German graduate from the University of York, I really shouldn’t be so surprised, but when I left university I moved away from using my foreign languages and never really went back. Instead I have made the most of the general communication aspects and linguistic science side of my studies.
So why watch that film and why blog about it? Well, my husband – who has continued to use his languages throughout his career – was lent the DVD by his German colleague. She had recommended the movie and it seemed rude not to at least give it a go. As it turned out, it was a funny, light-hearted movie about a road trip across America and we both really enjoyed it.
I decided to blog about the experience for several reasons. Firstly, I love the written word and it’s a powerful part of my career and life in general; this film experience reminded me that the spoken word is fun too. Written and spoken language, whilst having a lot in common, can be different in many ways. Obviously there are occasions when you can write informally and when you need to speak in a formal manner, but broadly speaking there are fewer ‘rules’ to follow when you are talking.
There are words and phrases that sound great when you say them aloud and can be aided by the facial expressions that accompany them, but which could be easily misinterpreted or give the wrong impression when written down. This is apparent in many walks of life – how often have you or a colleague found a business email you sent has been misinterpreted and you’ve been misunderstood or branded ‘difficult’ for questioning a new process?
Secondly, watching a movie in a language in which I’m rather rusty reminded me that you don’t actually need to understand every word to know what’s going on. In a film where I recognised the overarching narrative and could see the actions of the characters and their faces displaying their emotions, I could work out the gist and that was usually enough.
Thirdly, I believe that we all need to think more carefully about the words that we use, the impact that what we say can have on others and how this can affect whole communities. We have certainly all seen more than enough examples of the power and potential damage of language in recent months.
Often in workplace communications it can feel as if people are speaking different languages (even if you’re all speaking English, and that’s not always the case anyway). This causes frustration, misunderstanding and even, at times, fear. My experience with this DVD has shown me that it doesn’t have to be like that. Here are a few ideas for avoiding issues:
·         Shared language and narrative. You need some agreement on words and phrases in the context and story of your organisation. People need to know the basic concepts of your culture to be able to understand. Perhaps consider providing an organisational ‘dictionary’ to help people, particularly when they are new.
·         Mixture of written and spoken languages. A combination of visual and linguistic clues will help smooth over some of the trickier points. It will also provide more opportunities to ask for clarification and to check that they meant what you think they did.
·         A willingness for mutual understanding. This can be the hardest thing of all. I believe that as fellow human beings we can always find some way to understand each other. But everyone has to be willing to try. It helps if there is a shared, common goal to motivate that willingness.
We run training courses on social media, communication and public speaking.  Get in touch for more information

Living life to the full

2017-06-12 16.49.53Last week on Thursday I was a parliamentary candidate in the General Election, and came second to the sitting MP.  On Friday I was also one of three finalists in the Venus Awards Thames Valley, for Entrepreneur of the Year, a title worthily taken by the extremely able and very nice Charlotte Cavanah founder of ‘Time for Tea’.

I don’t normally talk about my political life in work but I’ve been encouraged by a couple of Team Holy Brook to share my thoughts on how these two experiences felt.

In both cases I exceeded my own expectations (I increased my party’s vote by 82% and I made it to the final), but I didn’t win.

Would I have preferred to win?


Was it still worth it given the outcomes?


So, what did I learn?

Plenty, but both processes had some common lessons:

  • It felt really good to represent something I passionately believe in.
  • Going in for something without the pressure of expectations is a great way of beating impostor syndrome
  • Taking a calculated risk is a great way of learning and developing.
  • sometimes apparently playing it safe is actually a bigger risk: the benefits of the process both personally and for my organisations were huge.
  • It was good practice at keeping your eyes open, and realism.
  • Trying something is a great opportunity to meet some new amazing people
  • A competitive process is also an opportunity to cooperate and deepen my professional and personal relationships with people I already know.
  • Bringing your whole self to something can work – in my professional life I can be apologetic for my political conviction and vice versa: but they are both aspects of my determination to help make a better world.
  • It can feel like a one off but just as there are no happy endings in life there are also no full stops on your professional journey: we say it to our children but it is true “There’s always next time”…

The final lesson I would share don’t be embarrassed about who you are or down play your conviction.

It is exactly one year since the anniversary of Jo Cox’s assassination today (Friday 16th June).  In one hustings, we were asked who our hero was and I was rather embarrassed to say it was Jo Cox and some other MPs currently in parliament who had inspired me.

It felt almost as if I was being presumptuous, but actually once I’d said it I realised just how true it was.

Jo Cox was an inspiration and just went for things – she didn’t hold back.  There has been a lot said about what she meant to people but the thing that really sticks with me is something her husband Brendan shared:

Jo would have no regrets about her life, she lived every day of it to the full.”

We may not all have her talent and strength, but what an inspiring approach and a great way of ensuring you do everything you can to make a better world.

Looking up in the Highlands


Lyndsay Henderson took a long weekend recently and came back even more energised than usual.  Here are her thoughts:

Last weekend, I escaped for a few days away to my friends’ hotel in the Highlands of Scotland. The hotel is next to Rannoch station and with no wi-fi and limited phone signal, it’s the perfect location to spend quality time with friends, relax and reflect. The last time I was there was nearly four years ago, not long after Scott and Steph had taken over the place.

Whilst my focus over the weekend was not work, business, and blog topics, a few things were said by our hosts that really stuck out for me as important values that all businesses could do with thinking about.

  1. Be true to yourself and your customers

Or, don’t be afraid to say no if it doesn’t work for your business. The hotel is a place of retreat and relaxation for the guests. This means that Scott and Steph don’t open the bar to serve non-residents during the day as they want the lounge to be available for the guests who may want to relax with a book or enjoy a beer after a long walk. They know who their customers and what to do to deliver the best service to them, they aren’t distracted by incidental revenue opportunities which could impact the quality of the experience and service.

  1. Keep evolving

Just after we arrived Steph gave us a tour of their veg patch where they have started growing their own produce. She said that ‘they always had to be changing to give their guest something new’. This doesn’t mean a whole new service or fundamentally changing your core offering, but incremental changes that ultimately improve the experience overall for your customers.

  1. Be innovative with what you’ve got

Lesson number two from the veg patch – when you live in a remote location, you can’t easily get the council to pick up old baths you’ve replaced so you have to use them. Here they are used to grow herbs. Its quirky, looks great and is a talking point! The business lesson? Use what you’ve got and don’t discard skills or physical objects too quickly, innovate and think how you could use them in the future.

  1. Look up

These words of wisdom didn’t come from our hosts, rather from a friend when we were on a long walk – look up and enjoy the view, don’t just focus on the path ahead. As small business owners, we can spend so much time focusing on and delivering the next task it can be hard to look up from the path, enjoy where we are and what we’ve achieved. So, once you’ve finished reading this, take some time to think about what you are doing now and your successes for this week.

If you feel you need some help with your strategic direction and looking up get in touch for a chat and we’ll see if we can help:

If you want to escape you can find out more about Moor of Rannoch Hotel here – tell them Lyndsay recommended you!


Our new charity of the year

We’re delighted to announce that following a number of very good applications we have chosen Against the Grain as our charity of the year.  They stood out to us for their enterprising spirit, their mission of working with young people and their commitment to sustainability.

against the grain

Sarah Sandle their Coordinator says

“Against the Grain is delighted to be announced as Holy Brook Associate’s charity of the year and is looking forward to working closely with Rachel and her team over the coming months.  We are particularly keen to continue developing our work within the local community and having the support from Holy Brook Associates will hopefully help facilitate further links within the local business community, which will be invaluable.”

We’ll share more details as we start to work together and you can find out more about them here.

Dying Matter week – Reading

HolyHolybrook Associates_4421b_resize Brook is proud to be supporting Dying to Talk, Reading.  Rachel Eden, explains why it is so important here:

Dying Matters Week aims to raise public awareness about the importance of talking more openly about dying, death and bereavement and of planning ahead.  As a society we know we’re really uncomfortable with talking about this issue so I decided to get involved and see who else woudl be interested in doing something focused around the national dying matters week locally.

Why did I do it?  Well I don’t like to to think about getting ill and dying anymore than anyone else, but not talking about it won’t make it go away.  Having a conversation can help you to live well and to make the most of life until the very end.   I have seen loved ones have good deaths, and not so good deaths, and I am determined that this is something we can improve.

Every death affects people differently. We’re often too polite to ask for help, or don’t offer it for fear of saying the wrong thing. But a family or a community dealing with loss needs help.

This year, the theme asks What Can You Do? This aims to get people more active in planning for dying and death and helping support those who may need it in times of grief and bereavement, be they friends, family or in your wider community.

I have been delighted by the range of people who have decided they want to help so we decided to not just make this a single event but to have a range of events – some of them fun: a BBQ, a charity quiz night others more thought provoking.

We’ve no any funding to do this, so I’m so grateful to everyone who has pitched in, and all we’re asking is that people come along and get involved.  Iyou think this is an important issue here are some ideas of what you can do:

  • Share the messages on social media – use #dyingmatters and #whatcanyoudo along with the #rdg hashtag or retweet/share our posts.
  • Come along to an event
  • Have a conversation with your family or friends about the issue.
  • Make a donation to a charity – we’re recommending the Sue Ryder, Duchess of Kent Hospice

Let me know what you think – I’m on and if you want to know more about Holy Brook Associates and how we support the community in the Thames Valley please do subscribe to our monthly newsletter

What are financial controls and why would I need them?

lh_may_16-copySmall organisations often know they need to have financial controls but put it off.  Virtual FD Lyndsay Henderson shares the business benefits of taking action and why it may not be as onerous as you think

When you lead a small organisation there are so many things to think about – running the operations, winning clients and delivering a product, service, or fundraising. One of the areas that can sit at the end of a very long to-do list (if it makes it there at all) is documenting your processes so your employees understand how the business works and can run it in your absence when you make it on that elusive holiday. In addition to understanding your processes, it is important to understand where your business is susceptible to risk e.g. theft of cash, or poor cash flow management, and build controls into your processes to mitigate these risks.

For me, as a virtual finance director, processes and controls are critical to business success and make scalability much easier. Here are my reasons why I think you should be thinking about them:

  1. Controls minimise risk

Controls minimise risks to your organisation. For example, as your organisation grows, you won’t have the time check every supplier invoice and make every payment. If you implement controls such as segregating tasks so that the employee putting together the list of invoices for payment is different from the employee making the payments you minimise the risk of fraudulent payments and errors being made.


  1. You might have what you need in place already

My view is that effective financial controls must be right for the size of the organisation. A limited company with the director as the only employee doesn’t need detailed process maps and segregation of duties around controls as that’s simply not necessary or practical when only one person is doing all the tasks!


  1. But be ready when it’s time to grow

When your organisation starts to grow, it’s key that the leaders continually assesses the need for putting in clear processes and controls and implement these pro-actively. When you take on new employees it will minimise the amount of time you need to spend explaining the basics if it’s all there documented leaving more time for them and you to get on with their day-to-day roles! There will be fewer errors and issues as everyone will be clear on who’s responsible. You should continue to regularly review e.g. once every six months, or after a big change, to ensure the processes and controls are still fit for purpose.


  1. Leverage what you already have

Many accounting packages have ready-made controls in place such as purchase orders which allows an employee to request a purchase on the system, ask for approval and then when invoiced your book-keeper can match the invoice to the approved purchase, minimising the risk of unauthorised purchases and questions from the book-keeper about what an invoice relates to.


  1. Financial management

Strong processes and controls will enable better financial management which will mean clarity for cash flow forecasting and management. For example, by using purchase orders and recording invoices in a system when they are received it’s easier to forecast upcoming payments to suppliers so any tight points can be identified and pro-active steps taken to minimise them. It’s also worth considering that investors will look favourably on companies with clear processes and controls in place that are ready to scale up.

Implementing processes and controls shouldn’t be a daunting task and the benefits and value it will add to your organisation will far outweigh the time needed to do it. At Holy Brook, we have a wealth of experience in reviewing, assessing and implementing controls and processes, so if you would like help with your organisation please contact our Co-ordinating Director, Rachel Eden


Why I started calling myself an entreprenuer – and you should too


venus finalist

photo Hemma Mason Photography

At the semi-finals of the Venus Awards, Thames Valley last week our founder Rachel Eden was put through as a finalist for Entrepreneur of the year.  Team member Lyndsay Henderson was in the running as the business mother of the year and made it to being a semi-finalist.  Rachel shares her thoughts on being an ‘entrepreneur’.


When I was initially nominated as ‘entrepreneur of the year’ in the Venus awards I was in two minds about it.  Although I’ve built Holy Brook Associates from the stereotypical ‘on my dining room table’ pipe dream to a values-based company that I’m hugely proud of that both serves our existing clients and is growing to serve new clients I’ve been reluctant to take the label of “entrepreneur”.

Being involved in the Venus awards, which is an award ceremony focused on women, has caused me to reflect on this.  I’m meeting with the sponsor, Jack FM, tomorrow (13th April) and in preparing for this I’ve been thinking about why I have been slightly embarrassed by the term.

At the semi-finalist announcement, Tara Howard – the founder of the awards – pointed out that many of the women in other categories were entrepreneurs and yet hadn’t been nominated as such, so I know I’m not alone in this reluctance to take this label.  It may be a gender-based thing, but I suspect quite a few men would have the same reluctance.

Perhaps it is because there is a stereotype of an entrepreneur being a young hotshot working in an office full of beanbags and taking excessive risks.  Perhaps it is part of imposter syndrome – an entrepreneur is Steve Jobs or Richard Branson not ‘just me’.

However, as soon as I started thinking of myself as being an entrepreneur it changed my mindset and has focused me in on four key activities.


Firstly, it reminded me that while Holy Brook Associates has already grown and developed it is still developing and growing and that we should continue to focus on innovating and trying new things.

Create value

Secondly, the heart of entrepreneurship is creating and seeking value – and that I should continue to look at how we can develop, whether it is through developing our informal recognition system ‘Holy Brook kudos’, supporting our clients or helping our charity of the year in a different way.


Thirdly an entrepreneur is a coordinator, so this has reminded me that Holy Brook Associates is most definitely not ‘just me’.  I have an absolutely stellar team around me. Because Holy Brook has a networked and devolved approach I coordinate them rather than manage the team.  Focusing on my role as an entrepreneur reminded me of that key coordination role that an entrepreneur plays, and – crucially – reminded me to delegate tasks both internally and bring in external people to support us.


Finally and perhaps most importantly putting a label on myself and having a certificate up saying ‘Entrepreneur of the year: finalist’ it has both made me commit.  I’m now more determined to not faff about, but to build a sustainable, successful organisation that will continue to add value to our clients and community.

I’d encourage others to take that same step and – if you are an entrepreneur – call yourself one.

If you’d like to be kept up to date with free resources and updates that Rachel shares with the Holy Brook Associates community on a monthly basis you can join our email group here