Life lessons from a 13 year old

I have never underestimated how much us ‘adults’ (I use that term loosely as most of the time I still feel like a child) can learn from children. Their way of viewing the world through uninfluenced eyes is always remarkable and I was reminded of this during a recent babysitting appointment.

I was babysitting for one of BOKAC’s first families who have a 9 year old daughter and a 13 year old son. I was chatting to their son about exams and how he feels about them having recently completed his 13+ and now that GCSE’s weren’t too far away.

I used to HATE exams. To the extent that I would cry myself to sleep before a class test, because I was so worried about it. I was always a hard worker but the format and process of an exam would send me into turmoil. Even now, I count my lucky stars that exams are over and I will (hopefully) never have to take one again.

I obviously didn’t relay this to their son and just said that they were never my strong point. His reply was that actually, he enjoyed exams because it meant there was something tangible to work towards and whatever the outcome, there was always a sense of satisfaction having done it. Even if you didn’t do as well as you hoped, you could still feel proud of the preparation you went through beforehand and know that you had achieved something by completing the task (these were pretty much his exact words, although I wasn’t writing them down!).

I was so impressed by his mature, wise and grounded attitude and it has been on my mind all day. We always focus on the result, without stopping to congratulate ourselves for the work we are putting in to get there or appreciating how much we’re learning on the way.

This lesson is paraphrased in lots of different ways but to hear it from someone relatively young and specifically related to exams, which I had always bookmarked as a topic I had nothing positive to say about (except that they’re over) made me see it with fresh eyes.

This conversation is yet another reason why I love running Babysitters of Kensington & Chelsea (and now Babysitters of Southwark too!) so much.

What are some of the life lessons that you’ve learnt from children?

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Celebrating a London institution – Trotters turns 25!

If you live in Kensington, Chelsea, Notting Hill, Fulham, Battersea, Clapham, Shepherd’s Bush or anywhere near those areas, the chances are, you’ve been to Trotters.

For as long as I can remember, Trotters has been around. It was the only place that I would have my hair cut without screaming bloody murder (when I was under 8 years old I hasten to add!) and it’s always been the kind of place that parents and children are equally happy to spend time in.

Not surprisingly, Trotters has been incredibly successful and they are soon to be celebrating their 25th birthday. On Saturday 26th September from 11am-5pm, Trotters will be hosting a party at Duke of York Square. Unfortunately I can’t go as I have a wedding to attend but for all of those who will be in the area, don’t miss it!

Trotters 25th BOKAC

Here is what Trotters had to say about the event:

“As a thank you to loyal customers, Trotters are throwing a big party for children and their families to come and celebrate their 25 years. Activities on the day will include a petting zoo and pony rides, a Victorian carousel, cookery classes, live music and children’s performances, a baking and biscuit decorating competition with Partridges, entertainers by G&O Parties, face painting with Galt, posh hot dogs from Manicomio, ice creams, candy floss, traditional fete stalls, Harper Collins storytelling and book signing by some of Trotters favourite children’s authors, an arts & crafts area and a quiet corner for mummies in need of some pampering by the team at Liz Earle…and much more! For more information visit: http://www.trotters.co.uk/trotters-25-birthday/

With support from local businesses and retailers Trotters will be donating all proceeds on the day to one of their chosen charities Place2Be, who provide much needed school-based mental health support to children across the UK and for whom The Duchess of Cambridge is patron. To read more about Place2Be visit: http://www.trotters.co.uk/charity/

We look forward to seeing you there!”

Pony rides, candy floss and Liz Earle – oh my!  #TROTTERSTURNS25

#SummerTimeOut Pick of the week – Outdoor theatre and cinema

There is nothing like an evening at an outdoor cinema. It takes the already luxurious experience of watching a beautiful film on a huge screen with great sound and a comfy chair to a whole new level.

Pack the mother of all picnics (i.e. lots of wine and cheese), grab a rug and some blankets and you’re on your way to a very special night out!

London is full of outdoor cinema screenings as well as theatre performances and here is a rundown of some of my favourites:

Theatre: Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

I first visited this theatre on a school trip to see ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ and have been totally enchanted ever since. Being outdoors brings a whole new element to the play and without the help of fancy lighting or microphones, the atmosphere feels very intimate. I have been to see ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ and ‘Peter Pan’ recently and both were excellent. There are bars, bbq’s and picnic benches to grab a bite to eat before the play and I would definitely recommend doing so in order to take full advantage of the evening.

How beautiful is this! (taken from 'theatrebreaks.com' )

How beautiful is this! (taken from ‘theatrebreaks.com’ )

Cinema: Somerset House

Last year I booked tickets to see Annie Hall with a group of friends and.it.poured! The fact that I am still recommending this place, even though we were draining our humous before the film even started, says a lot. Bring a thick rug as sitting on the cobbled stones for more than an hour gets a bit sore! Somerset House is absolutely beautiful and the courtyard where the screenings take place feels very secluded, despite being smack bang in Central London. True Romance is showing on the 15th August and Roman Holiday on the 16th which would be my films of choice. Book soon because tickets sell out fast!

Ice cream available throughout the performance! (image taken from Somerset House website)

Ice cream available throughout the performance! (image taken from Somerset House website)

Pop-up Screens: Various locations

If you don’t want to trek to Central London, there are loads of pop-up screens across West and South-West London. Grab your partner, a group of friends or (if you’re feeling really generous), your children and give them a go!

Here are my picks for the films left to see this summer (can you tell I like a classic rom com?!)

  • Stand By Me: Ravenscourt Park, Hammersmith (14th August)
  • Dirty Dancing: Ravenscourt Park, Hammersmith (15h August)
  • Grease: Bishop’s Park, Fulham (6th September)
  • The Notebook: Ravenscourt Park, Hammersmith (18th September)
  • The Shawshank Redemption: Ravenscourt Park, Hammersmith (20th September)

Perfect #SummerTimeOut treat! Jodie Ellis stars in Shakespeare’s As You Like It

One of our babysitters, Jodie will soon be starring in Shakespeare’s ‘As You Like It’.

Jodie says: “I’m going to be playing Rosalind, the lead character and Shakespeare’s most formidable heroine. As You Like It is one of Shakespeare’s only plays to be dominated by a female so is a must see for anyone who has an interest in feminism or gender representation in theatre. The play is of course a comedy and will be a really fun and laid back event to enjoy, especially when you can bring your own picnic and drinks and sit in the sunshine!”

Sounds heavenly! and we think would be the perfect opportunity for some #SummerTimeOut

as-you-like-it-banner-200-height-low-res

Further information: Following previous sell-out productions of Twelfth Night, Much Ado About Nothing and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Mayhem Theatre Company are thrilled to return to Cannizaro Park in Wimbledon and Nonsuch Park in Cheam with their annual summer Shakespeare, and are excited to be adding a new third venue this year, the grounds of St Philomena’s School in Carshalton.

Mayhem’s Shakespeare in the Park has proved very popular in previous years with a high demand for tickets and limited space available at the outdoor venues. As performances sold out in advance last year the Company are urging people to book their tickets early to avoid disappointment.

Please bring your own seating or rugs. Picnics are welcome. We will only cancel a performance if absolutely necessary due to adverse weather conditions. In this instance, if possible, tickets for an alternative performance will be offered. We will not, however, be able to provide monetary refunds.

Dates

  • Sat 11 July 2015 7.45pm – St Philomena’s School Grounds, Carshalton
  • Tues 14 & Weds 15 July 7.45pm – Nonsuch Park, Cheam (dog free area)
  • Thurs 16, Fri 17 & Sat 18 July, 7.45pm – Cannizaro Park, Wimbledon (Italian Garden)

Tickets: £13/£10 (Concessions / MMTC members)

Box Office: www.ticketsource.co.uk/mmtc & 07939 144610

#SummerTimeOut

School’s out for summer (well almost!) Our kids are lucky enough to have an entire summer of fun and frolics ahead of them. Summer camps, days at the beach, ice cream treats, trips to the museum or to the park – the list is endless.

What about the wonderful Mummies & Daddies of West and South West London?  We at Babysitters of Kensington & Chelsea believe you deserve some #SummerTimeOut of your very own.

What would you do or where would you go if you had 4 hours of childfree time this summer?  We would love to know about your favourite places to eat, drink, and relax in your local area.

As a thank you for sharing your #SummerTimeOut secrets with us, we will be running an exclusive competition across our Facebook and Twitter channels. You could win a 4 hour babysitting appointment with one of our registered babysitters to live out your dream #SummerTimeOut date.

To enter all you need to do is ‘like’ our #SummerTimeOut competition posts on Facebook or ‘retweet’ our #SummerTimeOut competition posts on Twitter.

The competition will run from Monday 6th July until Sunday 2nd August 2015. So look out for regular #SummerTimeOut competition posts that will be running each day.  Full terms and conditions can be found here.

Enjoy!
Here’s to plenty of sunshine and #SummerTimeOut!

Vicky’s post: Summer Mama (1 of 5)

Long lazy hazy summer nights.  Aaah I remember them well. Sipping chilled rosé wine from my plush comfortable sun lounger lapping up the very final glimpses of that glorious hot summer sun.  Designer shades on, chill out tunes playing softly in background.

Pop!

Suddenly my summer dream bubble bursts as I get showered with a spade full of play sand and thwacked in the face with a bucket. I’m still reclining but on a stained and slightly sticky picnic blanket. Instead of chilled wine I have a glass of warmed up orange squash (complete with swimming fly). No chill out tunes just the shrieks and squeals of my two-year old as she throws the contents of her sand and water tray over me.  You see since my daughter was born – Summer has been a very different experience.

So here it is – a gift from me to you.  My personal guide on how to have a happy and healthy heatwave for you and your toddler (without too many summer sacrifices).

Stay tuned for post 2 next week!

Vicky is BOKAC’s Digital Mum in Training. You can read my recent post about her and Digital Mum’s here.

Something a little different: How to interview well

This is something a little different to previous posts which have mostly centred around my experience in running and growing a business. However, it is a topic that I come up against on a weekly basis and relates directly to BOKAC so I thought I would discuss it (plus, you don’t really have a choice over what I write, although now i’ve semi-warned you on the subject you can of course click away!).

The BOKAC registration process has been deliberately designed to make sure we only register babysitters who are experienced, intelligent, reliable and efficient. It isn’t overly complicated but over 40% of applicants fall at the first hurdle by not reading the registration requirements fully and not completing the forms in a timely manner. This lack of attention to detail is a red flag and I am never sorry to thank that 40% politely for their time.

Tip 1: If you’re filling out an application form, read the instructions carefully. If the company requests two references, don’t just send one. If they also ask for your NI number, don’t just send the references.

Tip 2: Also, don’t take more than a week to respond and if something is holding you up, take the time to email/call the company to give them an update. It shows that you care and appreciate their time.

If applicants reach the next stage, we meet to discuss their childcare experience in detail. The meetings are not overly formal but interview situations often make people feel uneasy so I try and create a friendly atmosphere by first explaining the background to BOKAC and then ask if they have taken a look at our website. More times than I would like, the reply is “Actually no, I haven’t” or “I had a quick look when I applied but not really”.

Tip 3: Always do your research on the company you are interviewing with. At a basic level, familiarise yourself with their website but also take a look at any recent articles or their social media channels. It is imperative that you take a genuine interest in the opportunity up for discussion. If you’re not really interested, don’t bother applying!

After I finish telling each applicant a little about BOKAC, I then begin with an easy question “Why do you want to join as a babysitter” or “Why do you enjoy babysitting?”. Now i’m not naive enough to think that childcare is the be all and end all for all of our sitter’s. What often makes them fantastic babysitters is their interests, extra-curricular activities and their growing careers. I know that they are babysitting in order to earn some money in a flexible way but should that be the only reason? No! Unless I hear genuine enthusiasm for spending time in the company of children then there is no way they’re going to make it through. You can tell immediately if an applicant truly enjoys looking after children – their eyes light up and there is always a funny or sweet story to share. They use the names of the children they have looked after and can describe in detail the fun activities they have carried out together and what their roles as a babysitter have entailed.

Tip 4: Don’t apply for a job unless you like the sound of the company and your role within it, as well as the conditions of the job. Your interviewer will want to hear your enthusiasm just as much as your previous experience. It counts for a lot, and is make or break with BOKAC!

Luckily i've never met someone with anything as horrifying as bad table manners...

Luckily i’ve never met someone with anything as horrifying as bad table manners!

So if you have ever wondered why BOKAC has only a limited number of babysitters on the books (most agencies have well over 100, some have thousands whereas we usually have 25-35) – this is why! We only take on babysitters who are experienced, listen to and follow instructions and who have a genuine interest in looking after children as well as an appreciation of BOKAC as a service.

Do you experience similar problems interviewing or perhaps you have had interesting experiences being interviewed yourself? I’d love to hear from you at acameron@bokac.co.uk

Embracing the competition

I was recently contacted by a company who are looking to partner with a number of babysitting agencies. In trying to work out whether this was an attractive proposition to go ahead with, I decided to get in contact with some of the other fantastic babysitting/nannying services in London to see if they had been approached and what their thoughts were.

Starting and running a business is extremely hard work and all-consuming and as a result, people are incredibly protective over their brand/client list/industry (I am certainly guilty of this). However, there are enough factors working against business owners and I don’t think those working in the same field should be one of them. Everyone sets up a business because they feel they have something unique to offer so in theory, there shouldn’t be any fear of treading on toes.

I would correct Shakespeare and say 'Trust until you have a reason not to'

I would correct Shakespeare and say ‘Trust until you have a reason not to’

I’m not saying I would handover my client database but I can certainly see the value in building relationships with and helping those who work in similar industries. A little competition is always healthy and if there was no one else trying to do something similar to BOKAC, I would be extremely worried about what I was missing that had put others off! As the emphasis on relationships and human contact is so crucial, there has not (as yet) been a dominant international resource for parents looking to book a babysitter and for this reason, agencies tend to remain small. However, as the world of online childcare is rapidly expanding, the potential to ‘unionise’ and stand together against any major players who try and enter, is incredibly powerful.

The response I got from the other babysitting agencies was overwhelmingly positive. All were more than happy to help and willing to discuss their thoughts on the partnership proposition. I am delighted that I can now recommend the agencies who specialise in nannying placements (BOKAC specialises in babysitting requirements primarily but we do get a lot of enquiries from families looking for a full-time nanny) to parents as I have previously only been able to respond unhelpfully.

Just kidding...!

Just kidding…!

Does your company or the company you work for embrace its competitors and can you share any success stories as an example? If so, i’d love to hear from you: acameron@bokac.co.uk.

The Self-Employment Diaries: The good and the bad

Now that I have been self-employed for a grand total of three weeks, I feel I am expert enough to give you a full overview of the positives and negatives of working for myself (I’m definitely not, but I’ll tell you anyway).

Let’s start with the good:

1. No more Sunday blues: For years, I longed to work on BOKAC full-time and actually being able to do so is brilliant. Working for myself feels like a dream job so rather than dreading Monday’s, I wake up feeling excited to tackle the days ahead. I completely lose track of what weekday it is and when Friday suddenly comes around, it’s almost a bit of a disappointment.

2. The flexibility: There is no doubt that I am 10x more hard-working, productive and efficient now that I am working on something that I am so passionate about. However, the ability to be flexible with when, where and how I work is amazing. The fact that I can put into practice the advice I often hear about exercising during the day means I can take myself off for a 3pm swim, come back to work from 5pm-7pm, get loads done and feel all the better for it. I also love planning weekends out of London (one day I’ll do a post on the euro trips I take with my friends – cheap, so much fun and you feel like you’ve been away for a week!) and the fact that I can take the 5pm flight rather than the 8pm flight saves a lot of money. I then plan my hours to make sure my to-do list is still completed before I go which makes that break feel even more well deserved.

3. The support: I know I have spoken before about my dislike for the word ‘community’ (it just makes me cringe) but there is such a fantastic load of people also working for themselves and we’re all willing to help each other. Self-employment can be a bit lonely but I have already met so many people who have suggested working together and it’s so refreshing to work in different places and with different people. I always come away with loads of ideas and hope that they have the same.

4. The satisfaction: Every single second, minute, hour, day and week that I work is all for the good of me and my business. I am not slaving away to make someone else rich or having to burn the midnight oil for someone else’s deadlines – it is all for BOKAC and I would do anything for BOKAC! Whether we receive a booking from a new parent or see the 100th booking from one of our regulars (one of our families recently celebrated their 4 year anniversary with us!) it is so satisfying. It’s also great to hear from babysitters when they are enjoying being a part of BOKAC and the flexibility it allows them to do what they need to (work/study) as well as do what they love (spend time looking after children). The business might not be flying yet, but I can slowly see us starting to grow and the potential for how far we can reach is crystal clear in my mind – I feel so excited!

It’s never going to be all plain sailing so now for the bad bits:

1. The worry: Living off my savings and being entirely dependent on BOKAC for an income, is pretty scary. I have come off a fairly decent monthly salary to pocket-money at best with no view on when this will change.

2. The pressure: No one is actually putting pressure on me (except me) but in my head it is coming from these different sources: 1. My friends – working for yourself is kind of the dream and I think a lot of people do not think it’s a realistic one. In my head, my friends sort of see what I’m doing as a nice long ‘lifestyle holiday’ but are not sure that it’s sustainable. 2. My family – who again of course just want me to be happy but I want to make them proud and in my head, making BOKAC a success will make them proud (this is silly because I know just breathing makes a parent proud of their child!). 3. Other startups – there is healthy competition in the start-up world with everyone talking about their businesses and throwing in their two cents about what I should be doing (sometimes helpful, sometimes not but you always have to smile and be grateful for the suggestions). 4. Myself! This is the real source of pressure for sure: Will BOKAC work? Am I good enough to be the one to make it work? What will I do if it doesn’t work?? All very unhelpful thoughts that must be silenced.

3. The lack of direction: I have realised how much I thrive on being given direction and working collaboratively with others. Starting your day with a to-do list is great and there is certainly not a lack of things to be done but it’s hard to know whether I’m focusing on the right things, giving enough attention to what is important (and knowing what this is) and having goals and aims to work towards. I’m hoping that as time goes on, I’ll be able to make more of a plan in terms of where I should be each week, month, quarter, year etc so that I have targets in place to monitor my progress. I might even start giving myself yearly reviews!

From this list, the good outweighs the bad 4-3. However, the value I place upon the things I mentioned as ‘good’ makes working for myself the best decision I have made in the last year. I am stressed but also the happiest I have been in a long time and I can’t wait to see how this ‘journey’ (if I’ve already dropped in ‘community’ I might as well go the whole hog) develops and changes over the year.

The Self-Employment Diaries: Resilience

Last Friday, I attended a NEF workshop hosted by Tesco on the topic of Resilience.

As you’ll know if you read this post, I was really looking forward to the session and was hoping to take away some practical advice on how to handle the challenging situations I face with BOKAC in a more level-headed way. I know I have a tendency to take setbacks too personally and the guilt I feel when things do go awry (and I have to accept that at some point, they will) isn’t productive.

The session was…nice. The two people who led the workshop were very receptive to the groups multiple questions (I’d say we’re a pretty outspoken and headstrong bunch) and we did a lot of group work which was enjoyable as I am always interested to know more about what the rest of the cohort are doing and the methods they adopt in similarly challenging situations.

However, I did unfortunately find the information passed on a little thin. Where I was hoping for meaty, practical tips, what we got was theoretical and to me at least, a little obvious. One example was a discussion on how diet and how much you sleep you get each night can impact your mental well-being and how you therefore cope with stress…

We did touch upon the subject of mindfulness which I found quite interesting and perhaps would be a good coping method to try when I am either not feeling so resilient in my general mood or when something goes wrong as a way to calm myself before tackling the problem (depending on how quickly I need to react of course). I did download the Headspace app a while ago but haven’t done much about it since so will make an effort to give that another go.

We also spent time thinking about our values and what is either: Very important, Important or Not at all important to us which I found useful in determining what is truly valuable to me and therefore making sure that my short and long-term goals keep these values in mind.

If the CEO’s of Facebook, Twitter, Airbnb and Uber are reading this (they almost definitely are), what I really want to know is this: When things go wrong (e.g. when someone is attacked either physically or ‘digitally’ whilst using your service), before you work out how to deal with the problem and how to stop it from happening again, how do you cope with the feeling of guilt that you are responsible for creating the service that enabled this to happen in the first place?

Do you accept that in a service based business, if you make 1000000 people really happy you are inevitably and unavoidably going to make at least 100 or 1000 people unhappy or is there something else? I know I will take every measure possible to ensure that our sitters and families are safe but beyond that, what can I do? (feel free to email me at acameron@bokac.co.uk or I’d be happy to come out to San Fran to discuss further!)

Resilience