May 2019 – coffee shops, hot-desking and “not-desking”.

It is with a certain level of irony that I sit in a coffee shop writing this.

It seems beyond doubt that there is a modern trend for people to leave their office in favour of sitting in a coffee shop to work, with around 80 per cent  of those surveyed having done so at some point and 13 per cent admitting to doing so daily. The trend could even cause the end of the office as we know it and researchers are looking into the phenomenon.

From my own experiences, I used to find this odd but others sold its virtues: “It gives me an hour between the commute and arriving at the office to clear my head and emails in relative peace”; “It gets me out of the house for a bit”; “I’m focussed more”; and “I have bad news to give a member of staff and want to do it on neutral ground with public witnesses”.

In my working life I have seen the trend moving from a fixed desk to hot-desking and then to agile working. In the old days (not that old since all this has happened during my working life), we had an office, a fixed desk that was ours. It was our space. When we’re at the desk, we’re working (or a close approximation); when we’re not there, we’re not working.

Today, with the right and reliable tech, anywhere can be your office, even a toilet. I think we underestimate how wonderous this is and how much flexibility or fluidity it gives us over work. Want to soak up the sun and still get work done? No problem. Need to take a few hours out of the day to see your kid’s school production? No problem – or you need to come up with a better excuse than “I have to work”!

The flip side is that it’s easy to allow work to take over, even more so if you’re a freelancer. In an age of constant connectedness via smartphones, it can be stressful  and difficult to get away from things. I have friends that take their phone with them on their annual holiday to keep on top of work emails and others whose Sunday evenings are lost to checking emails so there are “no surprises” Monday morning (but then doesn’t it just make it a surprise Sunday night when you can’t do much about it?). I have one old friend who works for a US-based company whose mornings are quiet but evenings full of calls since they don’t consider the time difference between GMT and ET.

Once I started working for myself, it was a joy to be at home: no commute, everything to hand and so on. But I quickly found being at home all day became counter-productive. There was always something there distracting me – a chore or TV – and, more importantly, I didn’t get a feeling of the working day ending the same way one does when coming away from the office and so never quite switched off.

So, I decided to break the day up by going to my favourite coffee shop to work, rather than stay at home all day. It was productive – but then the same feeling I had at home set in. I realised I had taken a place of relaxation and turned it into a work place.  I tried a different coffee shop but in vain. One particularly bad day, I found I had simply worked my way down almost every coffee shop in town, working north to south down the High Street!

So now I have one for work (which just happens to be a rather “well known coffee chain” at the end of my road and I’m fairly sure I am one of the reasons it remains financially viable) and one for relaxation (the rather splendid Utopia).

I still work from home but if I have a task that must be done, I go to my “well known coffee chain” (as I am now), get focussed and get it done; when I’m at the other, I sink into their comfy chairs, forget about work and stare at the crossword.

Postscript

This blog was in process when the birth of Archie Mountbatten-Windsor was announced. I’m always happy to hear about the birth of a baby but this piqued my interest for two other reasons.

Firstly, the pedantic gene in me was overjoyed by people referring to him as a prince and a royal baby when he isn’t, due to the Letters Patent of 1917 defining who gets to use the titles HRH and Prince/ess.

Secondly, because whoever wrote the Royal Family’s official Tweets needed to brush up on the possessive (or the genitive, to be technical).

catastrophe.PNG

To be fair it is, perhaps, obscure and not many noticed it (do you see it?), but it bugged me all day and shows that even the Highest in the Land should take time to double-check what goes out in public (as my February blog highlighted).

Kindly proofread by Janice Gilbert, WordperfectVA

 

April 2019

Happy April everyone, the clocks have moved forward, the evenings are lighter, the weather is warmer and the cricket season is starting. One of the best times of the year!

In my last two blogs, I spent time explaining proofreading. Isthmus Consulting offers other services (as outlined in Jan blog) and I wish to expand on one this time: independent examination.

What is it?

It isn’t an audit, but it is outside scrutiny of charity accounts and assesses whether the charity has kept proper records, that the year end accounts agree to those records and have been produced in accordance with charity law. It isn’t just ticking a box. Trustees should view it as an assurance that they are doing the right thing. However, it is an important point that the trustees are responsible for the production of the accounts: having an independent examination does not absolve them of that responsibility.

This blog gives a good overview.

Why have an independent examiner (IE)?

The answer depends on your circumstances.

Charities with income £25,000 or more must have an IE, if not a full blown audit.

Charities with income below £25,000 need not have an IE but may find it a valuable service, nonetheless. While small, charities may be operated well by a trusted, close-knit group; but as it grows it may become operated by a wider group, in different areas and handle much more money.

It is often as charities grow, particularly quickly, that proper controls are not put in place and issues creep in. Kids Company  grew quickly and never implemented controls resulting in grants being spent inappropriately.

The trustees are ultimately responsible for proper financial controls, recording and production of accounts. There are many common errors made by trustees where proper financial advice has not been sought or followed.

In 2018, the Charity Commission found 25% of charity accounts did not meet acceptable standards and almost 40% of smaller charities provided inaccurate financial information. This meant charity trustees were not meeting their obligations. An IE can provide advice and support to help you, the trustees, meet Charity Commission requirements.

How can I help?

I have over 15 years’ experience of accounting, including the maintaining of financial records and accounts for charities. I am keen to work with those smaller charities, perhaps around that £25,000 threshold, to help them fulfil their requirements under charity law.

My services include: giving simple advice, account preparation and full independent examination. If you are a charity and wanted to discuss how I can help then please get in touch!

Kindly proofread by Annie Deakins at Proofnow.

March 2019, no really…

Firstly, you may be wondering how I claim this to be a March blog post. Well, according to the Julian calendar it is still March and that is good enough for me…

In my February blog I covered proofreading and why it is important. I mentioned an article that 9 out of 10 CVs have an error. Another way of looking at this is that there is 90% chance of your CV containing an error.

There is a 54% chance of losing your job due to a typo and so one could take the same view about CVs. If there is a 54% chance a typo would lose you a job, then it stands to reason there’s a 54% chance of a typo on a CV denying you a job.

So, basically there is a 49% chance of not getting a job offer, simply due to a typo!

And it isn’t just CVs: what about dissertations, theses, essays?

Anything up to 5% of marks can be assigned directly to spelling, punctuation and grammar. That may not seem a lot, but it can take only one mark to turn a fail into a pass and vice versa.

Errors in spelling, punctuation and grammar will also make your document make a little less sense, be harder to mark and could lead to lost marks in other areas.

How can I help?

I offer special student rates for proofreading CVs, essays, PhD theses, dissertations. Let me provide a fresh look with a fresh pair of eyes to your assignments before they’re submitted. I can help ensure your CV is one of the 10% error free!

Kindly proofread by Annie Deakins at Proofnow.

February 2019

Following on from my January blog, introducing myself and some of my services, I thought I would expand on one of them: proofreading. There are some frequently asked questions whenever I talk about proofreading. I’ve addressed a few of them below.

So, what is proofreading? 

It is a certainty this question will be asked. Not many, outside publishing, have come across the term, so I have prepared a few words to help.

Essentially, it is a check. A check, not only of spelling, punctuation and grammar, but of consistency and accuracy of the text and its formatting. Traditionally, the proofreader would check the final drafts (proofs) of manuscripts for any typesetting errors, etc. This would be the last chance to spot any errors before publication.

As such, a proofreader is the final pair of eyes before it hits the public domain.

Do I need a proofreader?

In my biased view, yes! It’s not just books – anything written can be proofread. Poor spelling, punctuation and grammar can affect your professional image. The littlest of mistakes can make the headlines(*), or even cost you the chance of a job!

Surely a spellchecker does it all?

Modern online spellcheckers are great but only really check spelling. If the wrong word is in there, but spelt correctly, it won’t get picked up. Form instead of from is a good example; something more extreme can be found here.

MS Word is getting sophisticated, in that it can spot the form/from issue in the context of the sentence. But, what if a word is missing and the sentence still makes sense?

Here’s one example, admittedly, quite an old one, but it demonstrates the impact of missing a word and completely changing the meaning of the sentence! This would not be picked up by a spellchecker: only a human eye could spot that (I presume the 17th century proofreader in this case was executed…).

Another consideration is that modern word-processing software will auto-correct. People often spell definitely as definately (or even defiantly!) but the software changes it and so one does not realise the mistake made. That’s great, isn’t it?

Well, firstly, you never learn you’re making the mistake and it creeps into your handwriting as well; secondly, what if it auto-corrects to something else? (When typing this, it changed a mistyping of throw to through – and this was only spotted when it was proofread by a human being!)

One last point on spellcheckers. They tend to default to US English and so wouldn’t pick up spellings such as realize, obligated and fetus. These spellings are creeping in to UK English as a result.

Why should I punctuate? People will surely know what I mean!

The shame is people won’t. It’s (**) why punctuation was developed. Go back far enough in time and there is no punctuation, but as more people learnt to read and more copies of text were available, writers and printers would add notations to aid the reading. These notations would highlight pauses and help give clarity over meaning.

Here’s a good example (and there are many if you search online):

Charles the First walked and talked half an hour after his head was chopped off

Do we mean he was walking and talking after his decapitation? That seems a nonsense, but it is one way of reading the sentence and, in less enlightened times, could be believed as such. Let’s throw in some punctuation:

Charles the First walked and talked. Half an hour after, his head was chopped off.

Now it is clear what we mean: he walked and talked and then, later, his head was chopped off.

Punctuation’s power is clarity of meaning: something very important if you’re trying to sell something!

Even so, surely it is just publishers that use proofreaders?

Not so, these days.

You may be a charity producing your Trustees’ Annual Report or a brochure to help generate donations; a business wishing to promote itself with leaflets; a financial adviser creating reports on a client’s finances; a student writing an essay, dissertation or thesis; a sport club producing a fixture book; or even a restaurant producing a menu.

And it isn’t just hard copy: websites, blogs, Facebook, Twitter and other social media all promote you and your organisation, so it’s important to ensure that what you practise in hard copy written material transfers to the soft copy online.

And, of course, you may have read it through a few times yourself, but a proofreader provides a fresh, concentrated and independent pair of eyes.

I’m convinced! How can you help me?

A very good and sage question! My services range from a simple check of spelling and punctuation up to suggested edits/rewordings. I can also help you develop a ‘tone of voice’ and house style.

I will help with CVs, menus, essays, reports, leaflets, theses, even Christmas cards! Basically, if you plan to put something in writing in public (be it on paper or online) then I can review it.

Want to know more? Then contact me here.

This blog is based on a presentation made to Southend Peers, the borough’s premier networking group.

(*) There’s a prize (not really) for anyone that spots the errors in the article, criticising the original error…

(**) My spellchecker insisted this should be ‘Its’ until I added this footnote!

Kindly proofread by Janice Gilbert of WordperfectVA.

January 2019

And so, quick as a flash, not only is 2019 upon me but February lurks around the corner. My New Year’s resolution was to push the business a little more.  So, I started networking (Southend Peers), had leaflets printed, looked into some adverts and decided to keep an online presence with this blog. I felt a blog would fit in nicely: a monthly reminder to myself that people will only know about Isthmus Consulting if I tell them about it!

Since this is my first blog, why not introduce myself a little?

Towards the end of my degree, I went to Careers Advice who bluntly told me that a maths graduate had a career choice between teacher and accountant (I know, now, how wrong that is!). Being the son of teachers, I felt teaching was not for me and so started looking into graduate accountancy schemes. I ended up on a trainee scheme with an inner London borough council, with an horrendous commute into and out the other end of London. I worked there for around six years, gaining experience of audit, corporate accounts, budgeting, counter fraud and obtaining Chartered Public Finance Accountant status. The commute really started to take its toll and so I got a similar job nearer home.

After a further four years, I had grown tired of sitting in front of a spreadsheet and took the opportunity to move into training (becoming a teacher!) at my old accountancy college. There I have delivered face-to-face training (UK and abroad), online training, one-to-one tutorials, authored exam papers and reviewed and edited workbooks.

In 2017, for various reasons, I went part-time. At the same time I established Isthmus Consulting to provide some extra income and to develop a potential next step in my career – to be fully freelance – while having the safety net of a paid position.

The services provided by Isthmus Consulting may seem eclectic, so here are my thoughts.

Why proofreading?

I decided to focus on proofreading since I have always had a good eye for English and felt I could combine that with my financial knowledge to provide a proofreading service specialising in financial and accountancy texts. This has helped me gain some interesting work early on, but it became clear that, for consistent levels of work, I would need to look for other clients. As such, I am currently trying to establish some clients, not only local authors but within local businesses/charities – to help with their promotional material, reports, webpages – and the local university – to help with essays, CVs and theses.

Why independent examination?

In the past, I have volunteered with charities and it was clear that Trustees did not always recognise their financial obligations, or lacked a source of advice on financial matters. Drawing on my experience I hope to provide independent examination (a softer form of auditing) to local charities and other organisations, to help them improve their financial reporting.

Why training/tutoring?

This is a natural extension of my employment – hoping to work with local students to help them in their accountancy and/or business studies courses.

Why authoring?

Another natural extension, which dovetails nicely with proofreading. Indeed, I have obtained work authoring content as a direct result of my proofreading.

Isthmus Consulting can help bridge your gap in these areas – if you feel I could help then please get in touch for a no obligation consultation! And, please do keep reading the blog!

Kindly proofread by Janice Gilbert, WordperfectVA