Carl Thompson: All the Stats from my Blog Revealed

I was recently asked in an interview where will I be in 5 years. Currently I'm writing this on a retreat in Bali, with no return ticket, with no plans or agenda. The blog is a great platform for me to empty all my thoughts on men’s lifestyle. 

It's sometimes cathartic, sometimes a chore. But it's become an extension of me and I was thrilled to get nominated last year in the Top 6 UK Men’s Lifestyle Blogs by Vuelio. Today I want to share a couple of facts, stats and behind the scenes trivia. 


WHEN DO I WRITE? 

I normally get up at the crack and meditate on a particular subject or campaign whilst out walking Charlie across Clapham Common. By the time I return to the desk I hammer out 300 words, just empty my head and then leave it. That takes about 15 minutes. When you do this for as long as I have you realise that writers block is a myth. No one is going to read every blog, or every word in that blog. (I'm amazed you're still with me right now). 

I'll then come back to the article later in the day, mid-afternoon or dinner. Do a quick edit, fact check, tweak and post. All told I make sure that a blog never goes past the hour mark. 

WHO IS READING

I'm very pleased to have such a wide demographic of people that are tuning in to the blog. Naturally my audience is hugely UK and London centric. With over 73k users finding their way to my site I'm pleased to have developed a large contingent in the US, India and Canada. 

AGE AND GENDER

This is a very interesting one, and not uncommon in the male blogging industry. Women are tuning into my blog as well as men. I'm very pleased that women are reading my posts, finding style and gifting ideas for themselves or their partners. 

I read plenty of women blogs and tune into discussion lead podcasts myself.

The age range is very much my own, written by me for me I guess. But an undeniable peak of the 25-34 range. 

AN UNHEARD OF BOUNCE RATE

That's right, I've been burying the lead. The bounce rate on my blog is the statistic that I'm most proud of. What is a Bounce Rate? 

From Google 'It is the percentage of visits in which a person leaves your website from the landing page without browsing any further. Google analytics calculates and report the bounce rate of a web page and bounce rate of a website.' 

In other words, people are coming to the site and having a mooch around. They haven't come there by mistake. They've not been put off by my mug and ran to the hills. 

According to an article by Go Rocket Fuel the most common bounce rate for blogs is between 35% - 40%. Anything above 70% is disappointing. 

QUICK THANKS

So a genuine quick thanks for everyone that reads and visits my blog. (Still reading this? Oh you are a saint, you know that you've just notched up my retention stats so thank you).

DISCLAIMER: All statistics are genuine screenshots from Google Analytics for the date range 01/01/2018 - 31/12/2018. My blog carlthompson.co.uk talks about everything men’s lifestyle.

A Bloggers Guide to VAT Accounting | Making VAT Digital for Sole Traders

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The blogging industry is relatively new, full of individuals who have never run a business before or even worked as a sole trader. There’s little support & resources when it comes to best practices with invoicing, accountancy, tax etc, so today I’m going to give you a basic guide to VAT accounting. When working for a company, everything is just taken care of. Your NI contributions are taken from your salary, as is Income Tax via PAYE and you just get a payslip at the end of the month which equals the amount you get paid into your bank account…it’s a nice way to live! I’ve been a business owner with Hawkins & Shepherd for over 5 years and a sole trader with my main income coming from blogging and creating social/digital content for about 4 years.

So today I’m talking about VAT accounting. This is simply charging VAT on invoices for work you have completed and claiming VAT back against purchases you have brought. Please Note: this is separate from your self-assessment end-of-year return, which you pay income tax.

Making tax digital for VAT will come into effect from April 2019, so from that date, businesses with a turnover above the VAT threshold (currently £85,000) will have to submit their returns through Making Tax Digital (MTD) software.

 

Are you VAT registered? Do you need to be VAT registered?

Regardless if you are a Limited Company or a Sole Trader, you have to register for VAT if you or your business turns over £85,000 during a 12 month period. Of course you can register voluntarily even if you do not reach this turnover if it suits you financially.

If you are VAT registered you will need to charge VAT (currently at 20% in the UK) on any sales invoices for work completed. You can also claim back VAT on any purchases that have VAT applied, such as IT Hardware and camera equipment. Please note that you can not claim back tax-exempt items such as postage, bank fees and purchases outside of the EU. Always check your receipts on goods you have brought; if VAT is charged, you can claim it back, if it isn’t you can’t.

As a business owner, you are responsible for keeping track of your income and forecasting when you’ll hit the £85,000 turnover limit. Please note that this is a 12-month rolling calculation and NOT a calendar year or financial year.

As a blogger, I was initially worried about going VAT registered because I was concerned that the brands wouldn’t work with me because my fees would increase by 20%. So for example, if you charge £1,000 for some work as a non-VAT registered business, you’ll of course invoice £1,000. Although now you are VAT registered, you’ll invoice £1,200 (£1,000 plus the 20% VAT). You just need to make the PR’s, brands or agencies know that your quotes are exclusive of VAT and that VAT will be applied to the invoice. You should also double-check any contracts are correct before signing them, as I’ve had one or two contracts that have said the amount is inclusive of VAT, therefore the £1,000 quoted will end up being £800 + £200 VAT. On the flip side most businesses that you are invoicing will already be VAT registered, so they can claim back the VAT on their accounts.

 

I’ve decided to register for VAT, so what next?

1.     Register for VAT.

2.     You’ll then receive your VAT registration certificate with your VAT number through the post which you’ll need to submit your VAT returns.

3.     Once you have your VAT number, you need to sign-up to use VAT services online.

 

What accounts software package shall I use?

Well this is entirely up to you, I’ve used Xero for 5 years and have found it easy and intuitive to use. Here are a list of the most commonly used accounts software packages that you can use to make your tax digital.

·      Xero - https://www.xero.com/uk/

·      Sage - https://uk.sageone.com/accounts/

·      Quickbooks - https://quickbooks.intuit.com/uk/

 

How to setup VAT in Xero Accounts Software 

Once you have signed up for VAT and if have chosen Xero, then the below will help you setting up VAT in Xero.

Creating an invoice template with your VAT number

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Click on Settings > Organisational Settings > Invoice settings.

Click Options > Edit.

Edit the invoice options as you wish, the below is an example of the invoice template that I created:

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Setting up your VAT Scheme and Financial dates

Click on Settings > Organisational Settings > Invoice Settings > Advanced Settings.

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Submitting VAT Returns

Make sure you have reconciled all of your bank transactions and sales during the VAT period and then review and submit your return.

You can review your VAT return by using the VAT Reconciliation report. You can submit a VAT return using the VAT Return report.

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Get Yourself Back on Track | Introducing the Zelo Journal

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I had a great response from a Mental Health blog  I posted on the site a few weeks back. I'm really pleased it resonated with so many of you and thank you all for your contributions and comments. Here today I'm wanting to draw a spotlight on a well-being journal that's being launched on Kickstarter entitled The Zelo Journal

I was lucky enough to get my hands on a sample and I can tell you it is a thing of beauty. It's all black, sleek in design with a clear listing of all the techniques you can use to get the most out of every day, according to your lifestyle. It's a book that lets you find productivity at your own pace, with subtle nods of encouragement without boxing you into a corner screaming 'Drop and give me 20!' 

I have a few things I'd like to get off my chest when it comes to productivity and wellbeing. Here's a little insight into my first entry.



Gratitude List

They say its the pathway to enlightenment. So how thankful are we that we get to speak to our loved ones on the other side of the world on a device no bigger than a pack of cigarettes. Do we thank the universe for Steve Jobs for accelerating the evolutional bell curve, or do we just curse the heavens each time one of our Instagram story fails to upload. 

Having gratitude is truly the key to happiness. Having the capacity to remember that all your problems are relatively tiny in the grand scheme of things is another thing entirely. 

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Obstacles to overcome

The big ones for me are maintaining focus and discipline. Not getting so easily distracted. It's never easy when social media is your gig; I've carved out a career out of social media but it can also be a huge distraction for me. 

I need to pull in some focus over these next couple of months. Especially as a blogger, these months are the time to dip your bread. Brands are looking to amp up their outreach and they become heavily dependent on people like me to spear head their campaigns. 

I guess what I'm getting at, is it's time for me to get my game face on. 


Daily Actions

I'm a huge proponent of exercise. My KOBOX classes are not only inspiring me to new levels of fitness, but massively reducing my anxieties. I'm convinced that we need to expel and exert our inner pressures through physical exertion. 

They say that astronauts lose muscle mass after spending time in space. This is because they are not exposed to gravity. Now equate that to the modern man. Our muscles, our mind, are all atrophying due to the super-safe world we have created. We have incubated ourselves within our safe little homes, screaming at the world voyeuristically through our faceless Twitter handles, we're not exercising the reptilian side of our brain that is hard wired to fend of sabre tooth tigers. 

Jesus Carl, are they handing out free marijuana cookies down there in Clapham? 

I guess what I'm getting at is I need to get back in touch with the more primitive Carl. I want to do more things outside the tech world. 

The KOBOX gym is great. I'm going to give myself 20 minutes in the morning before checking the phone. Allow myself to get centred. More time with humans, have talks about ideas, less talks about other people. 

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Weekly Planning

I haven't even mentioned my diet. It's one of the hardest thing to nail down due to the lifestyle of press events and coffee meetings. 

  1. Strictly no drink during the week. 

  2. Have the fruit bowl full at all times. 

  3. Each time I pick up the phone, ask yourself what am I doing? Am I just seeking distraction? Attention? 

  4. Drink more water. In fact drink water like it's my job.

Setting Goals

The goals baby! I recommend you all listen to the Joe Rogan interview with Tyson Fury that went out last week. Tyson Fury was a man who had everything, beat Klitschko, Champion of the world, money, women, fame and the wheels came off. 

Tyson Fury was stripped of his belts, caved to the trappings of success, became suicidal. In that interview he talked about his return to the ring and now he is on the comeback trail. He cited goals as the biggest thing that got him back on track. 

Starting by losing the weight he had gained. Bit by bit, day by day, getting fitter, stronger, now if manages to overcome Wilder on the 1st December, he has earned himself a shot at claiming back those belts. 

What a fight that will be by the way. Both undefeated, Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury both over 6'7 tall. Both punchers, Knockout artists. I'm in baby, take my money now. 

More about the journal: www.thinkzelo.com/zelojournal

Support the brand on Kickstarter: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1566841865/992004581?ref=593691&token=3bff5e26

 

Holly Harwood | Her Inspiring Journey, Making Her Own Gin

My passion with gin started when working at Dolly's Gin Palace in Falmouth (whilst studying for my history degree). This was about 8 years ago and I actually had my eyes set to create my own gin then. However I felt I needed more experience in the industry. After a big move to London and many hours working in pubs, bars, gin festivals, a role as a gin brand ambassador and drinks blogger... I still couldn't get making my own gin out of my head! 2 years ago with a lot of support from my family and friends, I started Holly's Gin.

The Gintern

Some people reading this may be following my story as Gintern for ILoveGin.com. This was a viral job advertised last year for a gin lover to visit distilleries and create gin recipes and content. It really is the best job ever and I couldn't believe I actually landed my dream job at the beginning of this year. My journey has influenced my own gin massively, from the design of my bottle to the botanicals I used to create the recipe.

The Design

I was very fortunate to work with my talented friend Ryan on the design of my bottle, as well as Allied Glass believing in my madness! I love anything Art Deco and have a fascination with this era. I really wanted to give the bottle an antique feel. The frosted green really stands out, and I love how the gold shines in the light. The shell logo was inspired by my love of Cornish beaches and the gold leaf design has some of my key botanicals added in! The design is actually printed onto the bottle itself which really looks fantastic.

The Taste

I love London Dry Gins and just knew I had to make one! I also wanted to use some unique botanicals and create something a little different. There are 9 botanicals in total. The 3 key ones are Orange, Gentian root and Passion Flower. I actually drank passion flower tea for years, as it is recommended for its calming benefits. The flower looks pretty cool too! It doesn't taste too floral but perhaps similar to Meadowsweet. There is definitely an earthy, rich aroma. The gin itself is fresh, vibrant and perfect with a premium tonic water!

Cornwall

It was very important to me to have my recipe distilled in my treasured home county of Cornwall. After a meeting with Trevethan Distillery, I knew I wanted it to be made there! Not only do they have Art Deco inspired bottles with a history dating back to the 1920s, but John the distiller has so much expertise and has been fantastic at knowing how to scale up my recipe correctly. This is something that was trickier than I first thought! With the help of John and the team, it tastes wonderful. John will be using their two 300L Copper Pot Stills, called Doris and Rose. Each still will produce around 300-350 bottles each. I will be bottling and sticking the back labels and seals on myself, so you really know it is handcrafted!

Pre-Order Now!

I am crowd funding to make the first batch and make sure the bottles go out before Christmas. All the money raised will go into the production (bottles, labels, corks, distillation, duty), as well as helping me actually get the gin out to you! This is a true labour of love but I am very excited! The support I am receiving means the absolute world to me. I am doing this on a very small budget, but I am determined and just know everyone will enjoy my gin as much as I do!

http://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/hollys-gin

Fancy a Catch Up? The Week That Was in Fashion

Guys, did you miss me? And likewise what did I miss?

You may have caught my Instagram stories, yes I've had an incredible time in Ibiza as part of Hard Rock Hotel, more to come on that next week. PS - Did you know they're coming to Marble Arch?

Of course I was skimming the fashion news reels where and when I got signal, seeing who the movers and shakers were. I wrote down 5 things in my pocket diary, between scribbles, doodles, illustrations and plans of world domination.

Here's the top 5 rundown of fashion news that caught my eye:


MICHAEL KORS TAKES OVER VERSACE

In a deal worth over $2 billion, Michael Kors has swallowed up Versace, opening up a parent company of Capri Holdings. No talks or plans of Donatella stepping down as creative director, no announcements of anyone being shuffled or thrown overboard.

My Thoughts 

Sure why not. I like Versace but I'm not a diehard fan. A little bit above my price point, which is the concern for many of the fans that this move will dilute the brand. That you'll start seeing Versace in the lower end of the luxury market where Michael Kors is firmly stationed.

Well who cares about that stuff really. So long as the quality doesn't diminish like Vivienne Westwood's garments did when she went global and outsourced her manufacturing abroad to keep up with demand.

If you like a product you like a product. If you like a product because the price tag eliminates its chance of consumption from average joe, then fair play to you. I personally wouldn't worry. When Michael Kors bought Jimmy Choo for a billion last year, the brands position in the market didn't alter one jot.

It does go to show that everyone and everything has a price. Apart from Russell Crowe in that movie about gangsters. He couldn't be bought, the one good cop in all of New York.

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CHESTER BARRIE REFURB

Oh the good old boys at Chester Barrie, how I wish I could have made it. I heard the canapés were amazing. Yes every influencer and his dog put in a show at the Chester Barrie launch of their AW18, conveniently woven into the relaunch of their refurbished 19 Savile Row store.

Away with you old Dickensian wood panelling said Simon Kirby, Creative Director of Chester Barrie. (Not a direct quote). In its place some free standing glass shelves, there's fresh wooden floors and there’s even an inactive scan that the clever soles over at Menswear Style did. A game changer for retail perhaps?

My Thoughts

It looks like a more welcoming space. The new AW18 collection boasts a similar palette of deep rich colours that are synonymous with Chester Barrie. The shoulders look a little softer and although it’s not my scene, I do appreciate some brash highland tartan trousers.


NEW JAMIE OLIVER TRAINERS

Apparently the naked chef designed these especially as an anniversary gift for his wife of 18 years. Well done Jamie, way to make every man in the country feel like a schmuck for never getting his wife anything more than a bunch of flowers and subway lunch for their anniversary.

The trainers look a decent collection, colours are non-offensive making them unisex. Made locally to Jamie by a brand called Seven Feet Apart.

My Thoughts

Not a bad idea. If you want to figure out a way to never forget your wedding anniversary, launch a new product every year on that exact day. At least have it veiled as an anniversary gift, you're not telling me this isn't a vanity project and he won't be wearing these for himself as well right? We all remember that episode of the Simpsons when Homer gifts Marg a bowling ball that has Homer written down the side of it.

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NEW HUBLOT STORE ON BOND STREET

Hublot has opened its flagship boutique on London’s Bond Street with CEO Ricardo Guadalupe in attendance with a plethora of Chelsea footballers and well-heeled souls. 

An interesting article covered by the good guys at Watchpro have mooted that the exorbitant costs of running a branded boutique on Old Bond Street will be swallowed by Hublot's UK marketing budget. 

My Thoughts

In a way this is an indictment of where we are with life on the high street currently. You can open a store on the high street but don't expect it to turn profit. Start-ups can't afford to chance there arm on bricks and mortar but watch and luxury goods companies can. 

They also have some fantastic security within the store. Apparently if you attempt to man handle any of the timepieces the watch disappears behind a revolving plinth. Bit like Roger Moore in Soul of Fillet when he has a 'funny turn in a booth'. 

It’s a TRAPP! Brandnew IO Walks Away From Owing Influencers and Staff Thousands

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Today I'm going to introduce you to a man that has robbed me and many other influencers of a tidy sum of money. Luckily I've got enough going on where I can notch losing a grand to experience, the lights will remain on in the Carl Thompson house. Charlie will still get his treats, Christmas won't be cancelled and I am still able to afford Waitrose's double velvet toilet paper. (I know, the ultimate barometer for one’s wealth). 

A couple of months ago I was approached by an influencer marketing company called Brandnew IO. Their CEO Francis Trapp (I know right? Don't even..) founded the company in 2013 and claim to be the leading Content Creator Platform for brands and agencies.

 

 

According to their LinkedIn profile: Our (Brandnew IO) platform enables marketers to efficiently discover Creators, manage relationships, collaborate on high engaging content and measure campaign results.

After the payment failed to come through for a campaign I did on their behalf, I contacted the brand who assured me they had paid their end. I was CC'd into a few emails and eventually the trail ran cold as they say in the Secret Service. 

 

So who else has been duped? 

I checked out Brandnew IO's social pages and found over influencers and content creators had also been chagrined, for want of a better word. Wait I have a better word; ripped-off! (Ok I had to hyphenate). 

A fellow influencer, Audrey Leighton Rogers, really blew the lid open on these guys in her Instagram stories and after asking around the influencer community she was not the only one.

"Often we use agents/platforms who act as a middleman to connect brands with influencers. So our contract is with these people.

But often these businesses are new and seem to come and go take Brandnew IO for example.

They have been getting influencers work and the brands have paid them yet they have kept the money and not paid their influencers for the content they have created and the money they are rightfully owed.

Often we are waiting on 90 days for payment, so what happens to that money during that time? It is used to run the business. Staff, office etc. And these apps/platforms cost huge amounts in development so simply is (if) the brands dry up and stop using the platform the cash flow soon fails.

I’m not saying this has happened at Brandnew IO but they filed for insolvency on the 1st August 2018 leaving 100s of influencers unpaid for content they have created."

 

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So why has Brandnew IO disappeared? 

This is the strangest thing. I understand that setting up a company like this requires a large investment of capital upfront. Developing the software to integrate influencers with brands costs money. IT developers don't come cheap so you might see a lot of these influencer agencies come and go in the night. 

However, Brandnew IO was founded in 2013 according to their LinkedIn page. Surely they've managed to recoup the initial startup costs and reached parity by now? 

I took a closer look at their funding and whilst these reports are speculative, it appears that the company came to prominence from small capital investors. I’m guessing family backed with initial funding then persuaded some private investment from Zurich.

Although the last round of funding was over 4 years ago, the company have been riding that wave and developing their platform but without making a sufficient return, failed to generate enough profit to keep the lights on. Perhaps they managed to pay their investors back, but failed to leave enough in the kitty for their staff and consequently, us. 

So where's the money gone? The money gets sloshed around, invoices get delayed, chased, delayed, emails miraculously get sent to junk mail or never received.

I can only imagine Trapp has reinvested the money into the ailing business and thrown good money after bad. Or has simply bought himself a nice couple of bespoke suits, a few Rolex watches. God I'm sounding like Sam Rothstein questioning Ginger in Casino.

"I bet he had a good time on my money. How did he get fitted for suits that fast? He's not going to wear 1,000 dollar suits. But let’s say he did which he won't, how are you going to get fitted for 25 suits in 3 days? How can you get fitted that fast? I can't get fitted that fast and I pay twice as much." 

I've tried reach out to Francis Trapp for a quote as the company has neglected to update any of its social media platforms which have served more of a petition page for out of pocket influencers demanding payment. 

Trapp has refused to reply. Consistent to everyone else’s experiences. Including content creator Gemma Talbot who has this to say:

“To say I’m angry is an understatement. Weeks of chasing payments that are months late with no response. The most frustrating part is that I’d been paid for one collaboration I completed through the Brandnew IO platform but not the other two.

Why not? I’ve completed the work and whilst I appreciate the brand in question may not be to blame they’ve still gained the exposure yet I'm at a loss of both money and time taken to create the content in the first place. 

It’s hard to just accept you’ll never see money for content you’ve created because the company have filed for insolvency.

It just doesn’t seem fair or right. Money that I’d counted on to pay rent and bills. After all, living in London is pricey. Not only do I feel sorry for the other influencers affected (some are owed several thousands of pounds) but also for the employees of Brandnew IO some who have contacted me directly on Instagram via DM to tell me the company owe them up to £8000 in wages!

Quite frankly it’s disgusting. Whilst it appears all my emails have gone unanswered, when I publicly called Brandnew IO out on my Instagram stories by tagging the brand directly someone managing their social media had seen it immediately.

I received no email update, no apology and had been completely left in the dark. I’m trying to perhaps understand from their point of view but quite frankly there is no feasible explanation. It’s simply disgusting and wholly unprofessional on their part.”

 

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Wake up Call

It's a wakeup call for brands also, finding the right influencer for your product is hardly a feat of acrobatics. The blame cannot be placed on the brands for a 3rd party company they have also trusted going bankrupt. However in many cases the brands have appointed influencers for their campaigns themselves and redirected said influencers to signup to Brandnew IO as a platform for the campaign. Now in this case does the brand have to take some responsibility? Legally, no. If they want to do the right thing, then yes. 

In my particular case, I was approached by a major Media Agency to do some work for a brand. After lots of email back and forth we agreed on deliverables and payment. At this point, I was told to signup to the Brandnew IO platform to continue the campaign. Fast forward months, I completed the campaign, submitted the content and requested payment from the platform. The Media Agency and the brand were happy with the content, although a month ago I got an email from the Media Agency it said:

"I just wanted to reach out regarding the delay campaign payment.

Huge apologies for the major delay in payment for this campaign. I completely understand that this is very frustrating and we have been investigating this as much as we can.

Going forward, I have cc’d my Brandnew support contact, who will be able to keep you updated from their side and get in touch with you directly. Just to clarify, Brandnew is a separate company from us and act as an influencer identification platform for us that processes campaign payments to bloggers. Therefore, your Brandnew contact will be handling this financial delay with you going forward. Please do feel free to keep me CC’d within emails."

That's great but it also felt like one of those 'we know what's going on here with Brandnew IO and trying to cover ourselves' kind of emails. Since that email I have sent at least another 6 emails asking for payment updates which were ignored. I then contacted the Media Agency and again ignored. I guess I have to chalk this one down to experience and think about how to alleviate this from happening in the future. It maybe in the form of tighter contracts, shorter payment terms, better due diligence and risk assessments.

If they need to cast a wider net with a certain campaign a lot of influencers (like myself, like Dapper Chapper, like Human Research etc) will spearhead a campaign on their behalf and advise them on which of their contemporaries will be a good fit for their brand. 

As for Brandnew IO and Francis Trapp, I welcome them to make a statement in reply to this blog.

I'm happy to pick up the phone and demystify why they've neglected to pay their staff and hundreds of other influencers. I don't sling mud that often, but Francis, you've forced my throwing arm. 

 

 

Hawkins & Shepherd Turns 5 Years Old | The Mistakes I Made

The critical mass will tell you it takes 3 years before you generate any profit from your online store. With Hawkins & Shepherd we sold on our first day of trading and I'm pleased to say have enjoyed a healthy trajectory. However, it could take another 10-20 years before it reaches a level that I would be happy with.

Today Hawkins & Shepherd celebrates its 5th year in business and in this article I will tell you all about the mistakes I've made and what you need to be mindful of should you be looking to start an e-commerce store. 

 

SINGLE POINT FAILURE

AW17-SS18 has been the most challenging year for me. I've suffered great losses through supply issues.

With Hawkins & Shepherd the shirts are all handmade so it is extremely hard to find a factory that has skilled workers who will deal with the relatively small orders that I'm placing.

We have always used the same supplier for 5 years and there lies a problem. Looking back to my IT Networking days, that would be classed as a 'single point of failure' which needs to be avoided at all costs.

 

HOT-STANDBY

The same applies with fashion/clothing, by having one factory making your goods is bad business. You always need a 2nd option which will take over if one factory experiences issues. In the world of IT we call this a hot-standby. (I know it sounds like a rolodex of page 3 girls' phone numbers that Charlie Sheen would have on his night stand). 

Alternatively, you could place your orders between two factories known as Load Balance. 

 

£10,000 DOWN THE TUBE? 

For around 9 months I had ZERO shirts being made and I thought my investment of around £10,000 in cotton fabric was going to be lost.

I run out of my most popular shirts around the AW17 season which is my biggest profit turner and also SS18 which is wedding season.

It hurt, it hurt bad. Not just on the business but on my confidence in people and my ability to continue to run Hawkins & Shepherd.

Over the last month, I've got all of the shirts made and I've also found a second supplier who are currently making samples for me and are in the state of approval to move forward with either taking over production or sharing it with my current supplier.

 

TURNED THE CORNER

Looking back this lesson has been hard but it has taught me valuable lessons and in the long run made the business more robust. At the same time, we've been working on a complete website redesign to showcase our products and services better.

We've been developing new shirts and searching the world for the best fabric to use in a new premium shirt range...we'll be using Alumo fabrics, renowned throughout Savile Row and the world for being the best (*expensive though!).

We've gone live with our first outdoor advertising campaign in the form of two black taxis fully wrapped and branded with Hawkins & Shepherd promoting our Shirt Subscription Service 'The Collar Club'.

For anyone thinking of getting into clothing and an e-commerce business there are so many challenges and things to overcome but taking advice from someone that has been there done is is crucial.

 

KNOW YOUR MARGINS

In fact, the other week I was discussing this with a friend who wishes to start something up. In short, he was going to make a product for say £25 and sell for £50. This just doesn't work; your margins are way too low.

For someone starting a business who has no experience may think that is good, you are making 100% on everything. Incorrect!

If you cost in every single penny, your profit will actually be a lot lower. For example what about the costs for, start-up, designs, pattern-cutting, warehousing, packaging and depreciation of stock value over time (the latter being the most important). Don't even get me started on wholesale! 

 

BUSINESS 101

I'm starting a new Business series on YouTube which will take you on my journey of creating Hawkins & Shepherd, how I got into blogging and crammed with my tips to be successful. So subscribe below to make sure you don't miss it.

 

House of Fraser | The Story More Watchable Than Any Reality TV Show

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Philip Day, the owner of Edinburgh Woollen Mill Group, has been named as one of the potential investors in talks about a rescue deal with House of Fraser according to an article by Drapers. The latest from Sky News reported that Day, whose retail empire includes Peacocks and Jane Norman, is one of a few potential investors referred to by HoF in a statement on Wednesday disclosing it was in talks with unnamed backers.

It was a bitter blow for HoF when Chinese backers, C Banner's withdrew from their investment. The deal was said to be in the execution phase when C Banner pulled the rug out, partly due to their own shares plummeting in recent months. 

A spokeswoman for HoF said: “In light of C Banner’s announcement (and as per House of Fraser’s previous statement to the Luxembourg Exchange) House of Fraser is in discussions with alternative investors and is exploring options to obtain the required investment on the same timetable.

HoF were already in talks to shut down 31 of their 59 stores and this withdrawal looked to be the final straw. However, HoF aren't done yet. 

 

What are House of Fraser's hopes of survival? 

Day is thought to be among other potential investors including turnaround specialist Alteri Investors and Mike Ashley of Sports Direct. 

Ashley already has a slice of the HoF pie and could possibly look to amalgamate HoF with his other sinking ship Debenhams. He will inevitably take a hit with the dilution of two stores, but it could be the last hope for the two of them to salvage anything. 

According to an article in The Guardian, the closures will result in about 6,000 job losses from the 17,000-strong workforce and the company has warned the only alternative is to go into administration.

“Whilst closing stores is a very difficult decision, especially given the length of relationship House of Fraser has with all its locations, there should be no doubt that it is absolutely necessary if we are to continue to trade and be competitive,” said chairman Frank Slevin. 

I've personally been a massive fan of House of Fraser and their own brands including Howick and Linea for such a long time and would be devastated if this giant of the UK high street goes. If you've been out of touch on their men's clothing, click on the below image for a couple of outfits I've styled with items exclusively from House of Fraser.

Who is Making the Most Money on Love Island?

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Love it or hate it, you can't escape it. Love Island has built on its phenomenal success of last season and it's not just a ratings success, but a huge commercial success for the broadcasters ITV who managed to rake in over 2.3million viewers on ITV2 on Friday, more than the BBC and the ITV. 

 

Who is making money out of Love Island? 

The winner will get £50k, but it’s said they'll get hundreds of thousands from endorsements, live appearances etc. The show is sponsored by an entire myriad of commercial collaborations.

Love Island viewers can vote via the show's official app, which has previously been used to allow viewers to pick who leaves, who returns and who goes on dates with who.

The app also features a style page with links to buy clothes seen on the islanders and fans can listen to the official Love Island: The Morning After podcast there too.

 

Brand integration

The commercial success of Love Island is not just down to the alchemy of the contestants, their chiseled pecs or porcelain skins, but the integration of the brands used within the show.

One example being the clothes on the show being supplied by the shows partner Missguided. The daters were given daily outfits to last them through their time in the villa as a form of product placement, handing over bits from Missguided casual, summer, festival, and out-out product lines.

It targets that 16-34-year-old audience which until now has been a difficult lock to pick due to the younger generation watching the majority of their TV through other online platforms rather than the live experience. 

 

How much are these brands paying to be on Love Island? 

According to Steven Ballinger, MD for Investment at Ad agency Carat, the biggest sponsor is most likely Superdrug that will be paying in the regions of £4 million to be involved with the shows integration. 

Other brands integrated such as Kellogg’s and Thorpe Park that has a theme park ride dedicated to the show, will likely to be paying in the regions of £1 million for show integration. 

For a spot during the commercial breaks the estimated fees are likely to be between 30-50 thousand pounds. Which is a handsome sum, but compared to the £150k price tags that is demanded for a spot in the X-Factor, still relatively small. 

 

So is brand integration the future for broadcast networks? 

It seems likely. This show has changed the goalposts for product placements. ITV have also adopted the vertical integration by providing its own merchandise from the show. Nothing is more popular than the Love Island personalised water bottles that you might have already started seeing in the drinks holsters of the treadmills in your gym. 

The direct to consumer model eliminates many middle men, circumvents a lot of unnecessary supply chains and keeps the products accessibly priced for the younger markets. 

 

 

Can Men’s Clothes Get Any Cheaper?

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Have you noticed that your email junk folder is brimming lately with 'Summer Haul' and 'Price Slashes’? A lot of men’s e-commerce stores are having some real fire sales right now and I echo the sentiment of Sasha Wilkins who spoke about men’s fashion reaching 'peak stuff' on the Wake up to Money podcast. 

In the interview Sasha (the former editor for the Wall Street Journal) mentions that we simply can't cram anything more in our wardrobes. Of course I'm paraphrasing, but it hasn't gone unnoticed that e-commerce stores are reacting to what's happening on the high street. 

 

So is men's fast fashion here to stay? 

God I hope not. It's at times like these I remember the quote from Stacey Wood from King and Tuckfield when she spoke about her new collaboration with Richard Biedul

"Nowadays we buy a top for £15 and forget about it. People from our parents and our grandfather’s generations would wear their clothes and cherish them, even hand them down. We need to get that back." 

The bottom line is that men are becoming more fashion conscious with the rise of social media and digital influence. However, the majority have been paying rock bottom prices for clothes for so long that it's very difficult to persuade them otherwise. 

The trouble is the more affordable clothes from the likes of H&M and Zara are good value for money and thanks to Zara, seasonal drops are becoming a thing of the past. E-Commerce stores and retailers have to introduce new collections a lot quicker. 

That all said, whilst disposable fashion is stagnating price rises, these clothes will not last. They simply won't. 

 

Wait, have we completely done away with seasonal collections? 

My thoughts are, yes. At least we don't need 4 seasons. The climates in this country is like the showers Eddie Izzard describes in stand up, 'fantastically hot, or effing freezing'.

Travel has become wildly accessible so it doesn't make much sense to stick to this draconian format of four collections a year. 

 

Final thoughts

We will see more closures on the high streets. It will get worse before it can better.

You'll see more e-commerce stores introduce charges for click and collect because free deliveries won't be sustainable with the margins getting infinitely more squashed. 

In fact I'm already feeling the squeeze on my own e-commerce store Hawkins & Shepherd and can no longer offer free deliveries even to UK customers. Couriers are raising prices higher than inflation and quicker than ever before, meaning that it's really hard on our margins and even harder to pass on these price hikes to customers. At Hawkins & shepherd, we're now subsidising delivery costs for our customers, meaning that as a brand we swallow part of the costs and the customer continues to see a consistent delivery price over the years.

You'll see more luxury brands offering finance deals or pay-later options such as Klarna to make luxury goods more affordable. But what is Klarna

 

Are Facebook or Instagram Reading my WhatsApp Messages?

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Have you ever googled a product or a brand, then seconds later found that same product or brand advertising on your Facebook feed? Ever thought it a wild coincidence that you've just googled 'How to wear Chelsea Boots' then to find endless pictures of Chelsea boots on your Instagram feed?

The critical mass finds this somewhat invasive, creepy but are still willing to waiver the targeted adverts as the price you pay for free social media. But I have to tell you about an experience that happened to me the other day.

I was discussing with a friend the benefits of sugar free Ice Cream over WhatsApp. My friend had never heard of the brand, never googled it, it was not on my friend’s radar whatsoever. Then as if by magic, said Ice Cream was all over her social media banners.

A coincidence? Pull the other one Zuckerburg, it's got bells on it. Facebook own both Instagram and WhatsApp, so it's not surprising that adverts are interlinked and cross pollinate through different platforms, but aren't WhatsApp conversations encrypted?

I had no idea that Facebook are listening in. This was not only creepy as heck, but the first real wave of targeted advertisement that made me sit up in my chair and look around.

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So are Facebook listening in and if so how are they doing it? 

I pulled this from an article from Lifehackers written by Nick Douglas, a very interesting read.

"Facebook’s mobile app theoretically could listen in on you, at least while you have it open. It even has a public feature that will try to recognize any audio in the background, like music or TV—but only while you’re entering a status update, and only if you’ve opted in. Facebook says this feature is never used for advertising."

I should state as thorough and insightful as this article is, it is dated a year ago and the author is convinced that Facebook is not listening in due to its credibility and Douglas is quoted as saying in the article:

"Facebook is cagey, but they don’t tend to openly lie about huge data-collection schemes."

But the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica data scandal which rocked the Facebook community has changed people’s perception of that. 

To counter this argument, it could also be said that there have been a million Facebook advertisements that I don't identify with? I'm admittedly very susceptible to confirmation bias. That's when your brain notices positive examples of what you were conditioned to believe, but doesn’t notice negative examples.

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But what about WhatsApp? What about the Ice Cream convo? 

Again there is another decent blog by Natasha Lomas for TechCrunch.com that offers the following advice. 

“When your messages are end-to-end encrypted, only the people you are messaging with can read them — not WhatsApp, Facebook, or anyone else.”

How interesting! This encrypted messaging service only works by the way if both parties agree. So make sure your text buddy is onboard. 

 

So what does Facebook want from my WhatsApp number? 

Facebook has your number, in a lot of ways! They use your mobile number for Custom Audiences ad offering. So any WhatsApp users that have given a business the same mobile phone number they use for the app can be served targeted ads by that same business via Facebook. And let’s face it, we all just use the same number for everything right? 

 

Final Verdict. 

The tools are there. Sure you have encryption on the messages, but your iOS has no added security for archive chat. The database that stores your chats on your iPhone does not benefit from an extra layer of encryption. 

That said I don't want to start sounding like a conspiracy theorist and we should state that there has been no evidence of proven case studies of Facebook reading or using data from encrypted WhatsApp messages.

Although how can Instagram serve both myself and said 'friend' with the same Ice Cream Sponsored Post on our feeds the day after discussing it on Whatsapp? I'm sceptical. 

In April 2018 Mark Zuckerberg testified before Congress and directly implied that WhatsApp chats are inaccessible to Facebook because of end-to-end encryption.

 

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS AND EXPERIENCES, COMMENT BELOW.

 

Your Ultimate IGTV Guide | How to Upload Videos to IGTV on Instagram

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It's been getting a bit crazy on Instagram of late. The IGTV platform feels like it's been talked to death already and it's barely a week old. Now the proverbial dust has settled what is it all about and is it truly the game-changer everyone is making it out to be? How can you monitise it and how do you edit you videos for the IGTV vertical format?

 

I'm still unsure, what is IGTV? 

IGTV is a standalone app and one that can have integrated into your Instagram account. You can upload videos up to an hour long if you have a verified account. Although I believe there are some hacks or ways to get around this limitation for non-verified accounts.

For those minnows like you and I we will be restricted to 10 minutes. Which is plenty of time for a vertical video. (We'll talk about the vertical video problem/solution later). 

It will certainly enhance the sales of Gimbals as the jittery homemade videos will soon get tiresome, much like all the found footage movies did after The Blair Witch Project.

It will certainly separate the men from the marines when it comes to video content because you'll need to be a bit more clued in with editing, creating ideas that doesn't just involve 15 seconds of you filming yourself blowing out a birthday cake. 

Ten minutes might be a very long time for people with so few ideas. 

 

Will using IGTV benefit my business? 

You bet your ass it will. Imagine having an hour long video platform where you can demonstrate your products to your audience, of course there is also LIVE for that but let's be honest, what brands really use that? It also helps brands or Influencers who do not currently have a presence on YouTube target their audience on Instagram with more engaging video content. 

There are insights available for your IGTV video. So far IGTV insights include: Views, Likes, Comments, and Average percentage watched.

There's even a handy chart to show you the points at which video viewership increases and drops.

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How do I edit IGTV videos for a ten-minute format? 

Well this is where you need to get that big brain a'cookin’. Firstly, lets talk about the editing. As IGTV presents videos ONLY in vertical format then any new videos you shoot for IGTV should be filmed in portrait but make sure there is enough resolution left after the cropping. 

It would be great for a horizontal format to be introduced but for now make sure every time you film something with your cameras you need to keep the object in the middle of the frame. As we're the guinea pig generation for this new format then I wouldn't start hiring out film crews or studios just yet. 

I'm going to film everything on my Sony A7Sii, then import the videos to my iMAC and edit them in iMovie or FinalCut. For this demo I'll use iMovie, so this is how to create a video for IGTV from scratch:

1. Film your subject in portrait NOT landscape. Copy from your SD card to your iMac. Open iMovie, create a new project "IGTV Test" and import the video into the project. Even if you've filmed in portrait, iMovie will rotate the content to display in landscape...don't panic.

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2. On the top right-hand side in iMovie, click the "Cropping" icon, then "Rotate the clip clockwise" until your movie displays in portrait as below.

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3. Edit your video as you would normally and save to file. If you are using Airdrop to transfer the video from your iMAC to your iPhone then save in 1080p although I do believe that IGTV supports 4K resolution.

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4. Then simply open IGTV and upload your movie. Remember that on IGTV you can add URLs in the description and they become clickable links --> use this format https://www.hawkinsandshepherd.com/

I haven't had the chance to experiment with including music on the videos. Currently IG stories can be uploaded with music, (royalty and non-royalty) but posts on the home feed that contain music that require royalty fees, get taken down almost instantly. 

According to Digitial Music News it looks like Instagram is also working on layering music into Stories. This is still at the rumour stage, though monetization would likely include both background music and intentionally added clips.

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I'm a blogger/instagrammer, what are the best videos to upload to IGTV? 

I already uploaded one of me working out in KOBOX. I can imagine fitness vids and instructors making huge use out of this. 

 

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What will this do for all those fitness apps out there like Tabatas that you need to subscribe and pay for to see this kind of content? They'll need to rethink their model that's for sure. 

 

UNBOXING

We mentioned product demos but I think Unboxing videos will be great for this. Unboxing vids on the stories is tricky, and boring because it takes 15 seconds just to get the damn sellotape off. 

 

EXCLUSIVES

How about doing content that no one can get on any of your other platforms? Imagine a news release or a giveaway code for a product? 

 

Recently I thought David Haye missed a massive trick. He announced his retirement on his website with a very thorough and well thought out blog post. 

Then he just reeled it all off on an Instagram vid for those that he said 'can't be arsed to read'. I mean there's repurposing content and there's just killing all the emancipation. 

 

Why should I move over to IGTV? 

When a new platform is started, there is an opportunity for content creators to get noticed. New platforms lack content so there is a greater chance of your content getting noticed.

When it comes to bright and shiny new things people are in “exploring mode” looking for people and content to enjoy and follow. Which makes it much more likely for your content to become popular.

Also we're migrating more and more to our phones. The IG blog highlights that “by 2021, mobile video will account for 78% of total mobile data traffic" and that they’ve “learned that younger audiences are spending more time with amateur content creators and less time with professionals”.

 

Investing in Entrepreneurs & Start-ups | Making Investments with Seedrs

Anyone that has started their own business from scratch can appreciate how costly and time consuming it can be. I've been listening to a lot of business podcasts of late and there is definitely a ground swell of serial investors, investing in entrepreneurs and start-ups. Each hoping they have the next Elon Musk or Mark Zuckerberg on their hands. 

Firstly, I've always said if you want to tag yourself as an entrepreneur the first step is being able to spell the word 'entrepreneur’ without predictive text. So go away and try that now and then come back and I'll tell you all about Seedrs. 

Welcome back, the years have been kind. 

For you Londoners you may already have seen some of the adverts for Seedrs on the Tube. Seedrs enable all types of investors to invest in businesses they believe in and share in their success.

They enable all types of growth-focused businesses to raise capital and a community in the process.

They've been a huge catalyst in a number of success stories like the healthy Ice Cream alternative Oppo for example. Move aside Viennetta, there's a new Sunday Netflix binge-watching companion kid in town. 

Oppo's success story is defined by three things; 1. A genius concept of incepting the wellness movement by taking a guilty pleasure product and making it healthy. 2. The dedication by the two founders Harry and Charlie who made the leap of faith and invested years of their lives into bringing the concept to market. 3. Seedrs. Once the brand was showing signs of growth they turned to Seedrs and enabled Oppo fans to get a stake in the business thus becoming the world’s fastest food and drink company to reach target through crowdfunding.

The leap of faith of leaving your job to commit to an idea is something I can personally relate to with my journey at Hawkins & Shepherd. There are plenty of head in hands moments that you need to battle through, but as Rocky would say, "you've got to learn how to take the hits, that's how winning is done". 

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So why should I look at investing in someone else's project? 

Firstly, you're not doing all the heavy lifting. Other people are. Backing the right project is a step towards having a more affluent lifestyle, financial security and early retirement on that beach in the Bahamas. 

If you buy businesses that have a good trajectory growth, it's much easier to grow them and make more money. Seedrs is ideal for people that have become bored or dispassionate in their own company and are looking to get their teeth into something new. 

'Don't waste your time being a cool entrepreneur and try to create new ideas unless you're trying to do world changing stuff, like make people live on Mars. Instead, go buy one and just grow it.' - Neil Patel, Single Grain 

That's it for me today, let me know in the comment bar below if you've invested in Start Ups, I'm always keen to hear and am always on the lookout to invest in entrepreneurs myself. 

 

*Carl Thompson's views are all his own and do not represent the views of Seedrs Limited. If you have any questions with respect to legal, financial or tax matters relating to investing in early-stage startups, you should consult a professional adviser.

Win a Cashmere Coat & Why I’ve Invested in Outdoor Advertising for Hawkins & Shepherd

It's time to put the great, in the great outdoors. What am I on about? Outdoor advertising! This month I've launched a new advertising campaign, promoting The Collar Club, a shirt subscription service from Hawkins and Shepherd. For the next 12 months I'll need you to keep your eyes peeled when out on the streets in central London as two black taxis will be donning my brand and the face of the campaign, the flame haired viral master and Mr Body Transformation himself Gwilym Pugh.

GIVEAWAY!

As part of this campaign I'm going to be giving away a 100% Cashmere Coat (the one in the image above) which retails at £1,600. To enter the competition draw you'll need to take a photo/selfie of the taxi and tag on social media #HawkinsAndShepherdTaxi which will automatically enter you in the draw. It is that simple.

Why outdoor advertising? 

As part of my business I'm heavily invested into all areas of digital marketing. I've ran many digital campaigns for other brands on my blog, but only have a modicum of experience when it comes to outdoor advertising. With that in mind I wanted to experiment and have a little fun with the campaign, making it more fun for me and the man on the street. 

'There is undeniable and enduring power and purity in a great idea, articulated with a striking image and pithy copy line – a Classic poster. There is, perhaps, a perceived simplicity to this task that makes it a less alluring creative challenge in a world of one-to-one communication. The fact is, simple is hard and we must do more to acknowledge and celebrate this among the creative community.' Glen Wilson - Campaign

 One of my favourite billboard advertisement stories of all time is the story of Tommy Hilfiger who released a teaser billboard in Manhattan’s Times Square cryptically declared, “The 4 Great American Designers for Men Are: R—— L——-, P—— E——, C——- K——, T—— H———-.” I couldn't afford to be as subtle as Tommy at this stage, but there's no doubting how persuasive a good advert can be. I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on outdoor advertising, do you have a favourite campaign other than the Eva Herzigova Wonderbra advert of the mid 90’s? Leave your comments and thoughts in the box below.

My Pre Workout Spotify Playlist | Get your Gameface on

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One of my keenest pleasures is manicure my Spotify playlists to my immediate surroundings. For example, if I'm on the way to Kobox, I'd put a flurry of what I like to call, 'gameface' tunes together for my twenty-minute hike to the gym. Upon arrival I'm ready to climb the fire escapes, bustle on all fours across the apex roof lean back and scream Draggggggoooooo!!

So when the news broke that Spotify did a superhero landing (one fist, one knee) on the stock exchange last month, I was, pardon the pun, all ears. But before I wanted to chip in with my tuppence worth I thought I'd get into the weeds a little bit and breakdown the Spotify model.

Launched in 2008, it is a tech based freemium company developed by Spotify AB in Stockholm that allows you to stream music, podcasts, and video. Spotify earns the majority of its revenue through premium subscription (ad-free service plus higher quality audio stream) of which there is circa 70 million paid users. They then pay the record companies who in turn pay the artists, everybody's happy. Well unless you're Thom Yorke who once heralded the company as 'the last desperate fart of a dying corpse'. 

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Thom has since returned to the platform with his solo albums. I guess some farts smell ok right Thom? Thom's main gripe was that the money doesn't get filtered down to the artist, that the subscription fees are being swallowed by huge swathes of debt the company has encumbered in order to pay off the royalties to record companies. In September 2016, Spotify announced that it had paid a total of over $5 billion to the music industry. 

So how does a company that has accrued such seemingly insurmountable debt, yet to turn a profit be valued at £118 a share? And an estimated worth of. A lot of analysts are speculating this is an inflated price that $30 billion dollars as already hit the high water mark.  

It’s certainly a strong company in regards to the service it offers,” said Jonathan Johnson, a relationship banker in Portland, Oregon told ReutersI’d consider buying it but not at these (price) levels.

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In an interview with Wake up to Money this morning Mouhammed Choukeir Chief Investment Officer at Kleinwort Hambros said "Spotify's biggest challenge is how it will face scrutiny from shareholders around its business model. It pays a lot to record companies, shareholders will demand profit so they'll pay less to the (music) companies. Certain artists have refused the platform and competitors have sprung up in place of that but not succeeded. $30 billion dollars is a 'punchy evaluation'". 

For a full run down on what the insiders are speculating about the future of Spotify, Angela Monaghan wrote a very thorough and detailed account on The Guardian.

My thoughts? Unfortunately, no one got back to me when I reached out to Spotify for a quote for the article, but I'll just shoot from the hip on this one. The reason why I think this is a more sustainable platform than the likes of other IPO companies struggling (Soundcloud, Twitter yet to turn a profit) is that it listens to its audience. When Taylor Swift and Thom Yorke demurred from allowing their music to be streamed, Spotify recognised that these juggernauts could sink them if they didn't garner their trust. Both Taylor and Thom are now back on board, the argument on whether it reduces music piracy is fairly divisive. In a nutshell a commission report has stated there's "clear evidence" of Spotify reducing illegal downloads, with every 47 streams leading to one fewer bootlegged track. But then factor in how many lost sales there are due to free streaming? An interesting guy to follow on Twitter about this is Jon Fingas from Engadget an online publication for home for technology news and reviews who seem to have the lowdown. 

I'll be interested in hearing your thoughts, please find below a link to my 'gameface' playlist.

Blogging Tips | SEO for Beginners and How to Optimise old posts

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I do get asked some similar questions about blogging, blogging tips, best practices, how do I drive more traffic to my site? etc. I can tell you there is more to blogging than just reviewing a brand or product range, taking a couple of flat-lays and hoping that people will pour to your site. 

I am by no means the authoritarian, (although I will recommend some in this article) but I will share with you some of the core basics if you're just starting out. 

YOAST WORDPRESS PLUGIN

If you're running your blog from Wordpress this is a simple plugin and it's free. By now you should be able to install plugins. If not click on the image below that will take you to the tutorial by Siteground on how best to install plugins. 

Once you've installed Yoast you'll start to get familiar with Keywords and you'll be given a light metered scheme on how well Google will index your article. Basically you want to get all the red lights green to optimise your chances on getting this article seen on Google. 

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This is a screenshot taken at the time of writing this article, notice I've chosen the Keyword: blogging tips, I'll add another one at the end. 

IMAGERY

It's best to get into good practices when uploading your imagery. Naming your files before uploading them and not having them too large will enable your page to load quicker. (Google will notice your site speed and rate you accordingly). 

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For the sizing I normally go medium at 800 width, and in the ALT text (an image attribute added to the image in HTML). It's handy for people with screen reader devices or those with poor vision. I add a description which I'll try and tie in with a keyword if it's natural. I should also fill out the Image Title Attribution tag but am often a little lazy. Do as I say not as I do people! 

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If you're getting a little stuck with some of the mechanics of Wordpress and you don't have a tech geek you can lean on, Wordpress respond quickest via Twitter, so if you have questions then simply tweet them @wpbeginner with the hashtag #AskWPB. 

TWITTER

Speaking of Twitter it might be an idea to start immersing yourself with some of the SEO gurus and keep up with all the trending news. Google is constantly in a state of flux and the algorithms shape shift, as Q from Skyfall aptly puts, 'It's like a rubix cube that's fighting back'. 

GOOGLE SEARCH CONSOLE

You may have already started blogging, uploaded a lot of content but you're unsure on how to optimise those older posts. Installing Google Search Console will enable you to see which articles have a high impression count but low click through rate. 

You can look at adding or augmenting these articles to entice people into engaging more. Being more specific or perhaps adding a few more keywords or alt texts if you haven't already. Knowing your way around these kind of platforms will give you a great head start against your competitors. 

HIRE A GURU 

Believe it or not I have a guru that helps me navigate my way through the coded-abyss that is Google. It can be expensive but rather than hiring someone to do a site audit or optimise your site, pay them by the hour and do a screen share via SKYPE or Google Hangout. 

As they say don't give a starving man a fish, give him a fishing rod and teach him how to fish. Data crunchers like Semrush offer a great SEO academy with a series of videos for free. Alternatively get in touch with me at the comment box below and I will try and offer as many blogging tips and answer as many questions for you as I can. 

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Fully optimised article according to Yoast

 

Is Debenhams Pulling a Fast One Blaming the Weather?

Debenhams announced some devastating figures this week, attributing the 85% fall in bottom line pre-tax profits the fall to the final trading days of the period when bad weather forced the business to temporarily close around 100 stores.

This came as a hammer blow to investors and employees as 'only' a 50% fall was forecast was predicted

The retailer cited a “disappointing Christmas season” behind the fall in underlying earnings in the UK, which were down 39.3 per cent for the half year, according to an article in the Retail Gazette

Carol Spencer who developed the personal shopping experience for Debenhams in the 90's told Wake Up to Money podcast when asked if the artic winds were to blame.

"I don't believe it (the beast from the east) would have an effect. A short term effect yes, but they were in trouble way before then. People want an emotional connection that you can't get online. Toys R Us have suffered. That massive warehouse effect of shopping is not want people want. That’s what a website is, a massive warehouse." 

Carol has a point. We need to radically rethink the whole monolith department store model. People are needing an emotional attachment to everything now, we're even given virtual carte blanche to travel on planes with our dogs because we're such fragile snowflakes. 

Though Debenhams are showing some signs of reimagining their bricks and mortar model. They may have been slow out of the blocks converting their catalogue to an online shopping experience, but they have made some small steps in consolidation of surplus floor space, their latest opening in Wolverhampton is much more compact and streamlined offering a more intimate customer experience. 

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But who is getting right? After all not every e-tailor is getting right neither as we highlighted in the demise of a A Suit That Fits. I asked E-Commerce manager for a multitude of companies and Editor of Maketh the Man, Anton Welcome about the future of retail and what brand is getting it right. 

"In my opinion it's John Lewis from a department store point of view their values resonate through everything they do. Their website generates a lot of revenue they are growing a lot faster than competitors with a lot less store footage. They have 50 stores on their portfolio but they have an online business that will cater to their demand and it's a brand that will deliver products to stores that customers can get to. Best of both worlds, lovely balance." 

And the future of retail? 

"Look, speed is everything. Let's just say if Amazon had stores we'd be in trouble. They are a ruthless, scary evil. A necessary evil, but very scary how powerful they've become. It's always been survival of the fittest, you're not going to stop Amazon anytime soon. The whole beauty of competition is that you have to do it yourself and do it better than them."

In other news

Away from Debenhams shirt seller Charles Tyrwhitt has announced losses of £5.9 million on revenues of circa £200 million as an IT blunder saw the company hemorrhage £7.3 million. And most recently House of Fraser is expected to announce a CVA (company voluntary agreement) to avoid falling into administration. 

 

Are There Any Stable Jobs in the Retail Sector?

It's really a fascinating time for the high street. I'd hate to call it exciting as many people within the retail sector will be echoing the words of President Whitmore, "EXCITING? People are dying out there. I don't think "exciting" is the word I'd choose to describe it."

Okay so maybe I'm being a little dramatic. But you have to sympathise, not only is the pressure on these positions under immense scrutiny, but living with the insecurity knowing it could be your brand that will consolidate its workforce, or simply go out of business altogether is enough for a few sleepless nights. 

This week in high street news, Shop Direct announced the closure of three of its sites across Greater Manchester leading to nearly 2000 job losses with many of the roles being replaced by automation. Mothercare expecting to announce closure of a 1/3 of its stores and WHSmiths rumoured to be in a spot of bother. 

So what are the current stable jobs out there? Well amidst all the peril and what some industry experts are referring to as 'media scaremongering' some sectors of the retail industry are not only hiring, but showing exponential growth.  

Jane Foley, Head of FX Strategy for Rabobank which is responsible for the G10 currencies, told BBC's Wake up to Money yesterday

'It really depends what sector of retail we're talking about. People want an experience, see their friends, drink coffee etc, but are becoming less bothered about shopping for clothes or shoes.' 

So what jobs should people be looking for right now if they're looking to get into the retail sector? In another interview on the same podcast, James Hick from ManpowerGroup cites, 

"We're seeing significant demand for shop floor specialists, I.E sales assistants that can up-sell you something you don't necessarily want. There is also a huge demand in digital marketing, e-commerce supply chain and of course cyber security is a massive growth area across the retail sector.

What to do if you've just lost your job? 

If you've recently been made redundant from the retail sector you should focus on those transferable skills. Many people are transposing those customer service skills they've acquired in retail to the service industry. In the UK 3 coffee shops are opening every day on average. 

Look for jobs in retail outlets slightly beyond your postcode. Huge outlets like Bluewater in Kent, or Bicester in Oxford boast 97% occupancy rates so their retail metrics and employment stats paint an entirely different picture compared to the high street.

Look to strengthen your knowledge gaps in and attend digital marketing evening courses at the University of Westminster

Stay tuned for more articles like these, as we'll be looking to go into more depth with the state of retail. Next week we'll talk to Anton Welcome e-commerce specialist and editor of Maketh the Man about what brands are getting it right! 

What the Hell is Going on With A Suit That Fits?

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As many of you know by now, one of my competitors* A Suit That Fits has collapsed into liquidation. In a very informative article by James Hurley of The Times, Daniel Warwick, the companies’ director, has blamed a weak retail environment, higher import prices linked with Brexit and an earthquake in Nepal, where its clothes are produced.

The brand was launched in May 2006 and were very transparent with their model of having their production in Nepal, even citing their generous payment methodology of paying it's foundry workers and seamstresses over 50% the average local wage. 

The idea initially being you can get measured by appointment by a local stylist, pick your cloth and styling, and have a suit turned round in 8 weeks. If you needed additional fittings (which of course you would) then that would be dealt with by their own alterations department which would take up to a month. Alternatively, you could measure yourself and order an e-Suit through their website. 

ASTF (A Suit That Fits) ran into trouble into 2013, fell into administration and was sold for a minute sum to a person called Keith Watson who decided to resuscitate the business through crowdfunding promising a ROI of over 9 times the share price. Third parties at the time pointed out to Crowdcube (the equity investment platform) that the directors’ previous insolvency had not been disclosed to prospective investors.

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As well as the article by James Hurley, I thoroughly recommend that you read this blog post by the Equity Crowd Funding Experts who deliver an excoriating assessment on the character of Keith Watson. Almost a crusade of sorts to deliver the man from the shadows into the gallows. 

'Round about 2012 ASTF used the services of an accountant, Keith Watson. Now it turns out that Watson was in the market for a failed company and was the only offer the administration for ASTF received. He paid a few thousand pounds for the business. Keith we will meet again.'

I've reached out to DW Clothing Limited, the trading division of ASTF for a comment but they have not got back to me. They have also failed to update their website and at the time of writing, have not issued a statement on their social media. 

My personal view is that Brexit has become this axiom for companies struggling to justify their lack of sales. Some sources and competitors I know have informed me that Brexit has boosted sales, especially internationally thanks to the weaker pound. Retail is tough but then ASTF was not shackled into any leases, no bricks and mortar so I'm not sure how they managed to hemorrhage so much investor capital. 

They might want to look at how dated and their platform has become. The tutorials offer zero personality and when it comes to augmenting the styling, it's an increasingly frustrating and tedious procedure. Not to mention all of a sudden, that 2-piece suit that you were promised for under £300, has now spiraled into 5, 6 or £700. Which is still not a bad price for a bespoke 2-piece, but all of a sudden you have to question its USP. 

Plenty of thoughts on this, very keen to rant on the podcast that's currently in the making. Stay tuned. I'll leave you with the last review posted by a customer on the services of ASTF found on Trust Pilot

'I ordered two separate set of multiple suits worth well over £3000 and they are refusing to repay me claiming that the company behind the brand is in liquidation, yet offering to complete my order. A task they have failed to accomplish in the last few years. The staff are rude and unhelpful and purposefully misdirect and lie in regards to support queries.'

*I use the word competitor here loosely. I sell ready to wear suits with 100% British Wool fabric for £250 on my e-commerce site Hawkins and Shepherd.

Are Britain's High Streets in Turmoil? New Look Set to Close 60 Stores | What Does the Future Hold for Bricks & Mortar Stores?

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Last week news broke of another high street retailer New Look showing the cracks of a struggling high street as it announced the closure of 60 of its 593 stores. For us Londonites here’s how it affects us. The New Look London stores closing will be:

London - Marble Arch
London - Moorgate/ London Wall
London - Oxford Circus

Charlotte Pearce, retail analyst at GlobalData, agreed: “While the closure of stores will lead to market share loss in the short term, it is a long awaited and necessary move. New Look is now in danger of slipping out of the top 15 UK clothing retailers this year.”

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I don’t want to scaremonger, but I do worry about the future of the high street in our country. Bricks and Mortar are quintessentially a British thing, and as the saying goes, we are a nation of shopkeepers. We’ve already lost Maplin and Toys ‘R’ Us this year, both companies slipping into administration on the same day.

In other news Marks and Spencer’s continue to hemorrhage profits, reporting a 5.3 per cent fall in profit for the six months to the end of September 2017, largely as a result of the cost of pulling out of certain international markets. Basically they tanked in the U.S.

They also haven’t fully recovered from the cost of having to completely remodel their online platform in the early 2000’s. Yes, Gandy and Cheshire have done well with their ranges, but they’re not The Avengers.

If we’re looking at the other heavyweights in that area, shares are sinking in Next, as much as 8% wiped off the company portfolio in October last year. Debenhams had a shocker at Christmas prompting job cuts as their share price plunge wiping almost £70m off the market value of the Debenhams business.

Okay Carl we get it; you got up early and done your research. What do you want a Blue Peter’s Badge or something? How about you tell us what’s going to happen to retail in the next couple of years?

Well, since you asked. The future of the high street will be the continuation of pop-ups that you’re already seeing a lot of. If brands do well they’ll renew their lease, from 6 months to 12 and so on. Brands already doing this well are American Eagle who launched their lingerie off-shoot Aerie in a pop-up. The direct to consumer brands in particular will do well to exploit this. Then the next wave is apps getting into physical space like ThredUp who opened a store in Texas and are looking to roll out more. It’s these apps that have the data, this welter of information that can target the consumer directly. If anyone wants to read up more on that then check out the pioneering trend library WGSN.

The end goal for stores is to make their shopping experience marry their online experience. The stores of the future will use data to personalise the shopping experience. A bit like checking into a hotel where you’ll have all your ‘environment’ settings programmed ahead of your arrival. What kind of beers you’d like in the fridge, how warm you want the room, what sports channels you want to watch, etc. Technology will educate customer-service representatives with profiles on buying behaviour, product preferences and demographic information driving more sales.

Ok that’s it from me today folks, just some sketches, some thoughts. Hope you found it useful. Remember to go easy on the people behind the counter whilst you’re out shopping for bargains. Retail is fragile, the humans involved can be just as fragile and deserve our respect.  

 

Links and Further Reading