Gravity Force St Albans Review – heaven or hell?

So as you know I don’t do many reviews, but when my kids heard I’d been asked to review gravity force in the summer, they kind of forced me to go!  Here is Curly Headed Boy’s reaction:

Gravity Force St Albans

So here are the things I was worried about and what I thought about it all ….

Is it dangerous?

Trampolines as we know cause havoc in home gardens and there was certainly some dodgy stuff on the internet about trampoline parks.  But I really liked this team.  There was no scrimping on first aid training and they took their roles seriously.  It seemed well designed, so that there less opportunities for problems as well.  Curly headed boy felt that some of the trampolines are actually a little under powered – maybe a very sensible precaution!

There are of course waivers you have to fill out – do it before you go and there is hardly any delay.  Make sure on your first visit that you do arrive 30mins before to do your waiver

Were they party-poopers?

Whilst worrying about safety is paramount, it is a trampoline park and Curly Headed Boy had been to a party at a rival location and hated it.  He felt they were hardly able to do anything and kept being pulled off.  Whilst getting into devilish moods at time, he’s a pretty well behaved boy, so he was really upset with the other location.  He loved Gravity force – the perfect combo of control and fun.

Did I have to get involved?

Gravity Force square trampolines

With my Lyme disease I was most worried that I’d be forced to bounce by Little Dimples, as she is often unhappy alone – this would not have been a good plan.  But after the first 5 mins I was free to watch, and on the next visits I didn’t have to do anything at all (oh yes, we have been again, and again, and again!).  This is a big deal as she normally gets nervous in chaotic situations.

Do you have to pay as a parent if you aren’t bouncing?

Nope – unlike other similar parks.

Whats the noise like?

I HATE Gambado’s – sorry Gambado’s, but the noise is like a living torture to me!  It was slightly ‘Argh’ in the coffee area when there were parties on, but the main area was fine.

Tip to help the kids enjoy it more:

Gravity Force Little Kids

Take the kids around the whole area before they go off jumping and explain what the different areas are for.  For example, there are 2 dodge ball courts (for different age groups), 4 long trampolines for doing tricks on, a trampoline with a basket ball hoop and a more professional trampoline.

Food & drink & socks & lockers

Gravity Force Food prices

You can’t take enough water.  I don’t think you are meant to take your own drinks or food, but honestly you are going to need to sneak water in your bag.  There is nothing you can do however, they will be hungry and thirsty at the end, expect to visit the cafe! The good news is that I think the prices were reasonable, they could have put them completely off the scale and they haven’t.

If you don’t have trampoline type socks from another park, then you’ll need them on the first visit (they are sticky on the bottom), but then can keep reusing them.

We didn’t worry about lockers, you won’t need one if you aren’t bouncing.

What if there is a party?

I’m not keen on going to kids play parks when there are other parties there.  But when you book online you can see which session are the busiest, so avoid those ones.

How long do you need to go for?

Personally I don’t think that you need more than an hour.  It’s actually a perfect thing to do for a short time in the day to let the kids let off steam.

Any improvements?

CHB would love them to do classes on acrobatics, but they can’t because of the insurance.

Toddlers, Disabilities & Grown Ups

There are morning sessions for toddlers, special sessions for those with disabilities and exercise classes for grown ups (The hairy northerner is actually rather keen to try one of the classes out, we just haven’t sorted it out yet).

Word of warning!

Don’t park in the private car park next door – I did by mistake and got a nasty message on my car – I can get a bit confuddled about parking sometimes, it was an honest mistake.

A Surprise Bonus

We ran into Anton from Xfactor – I have to say he is a real gent.  He didn’t stop smiling the whole time he was there, and happily made my kids day by taking a selfie with them!

Anton Stephans Gravity Force

Overall

My kids love it.  It’s a simple and quick thing to add into a weekend or holiday to help them let off steam without costing a fortune.  We’ve become regulars and will be back there this half-term.

 

Disclosure: I was invited to the pre-open day and given some tickets in return for a review.  We have however been again and paid for our own tickets, so that kind of proves it’s worth it.

Big Decisions, Crufts and Ruff Guides!

Irony of Making Decisions

It’s one of those funny things isn’t it – make a big decision and then irony of ironies, something challenges it.

A few weeks ago I was so up to my eyeballs that I turned off all notifications on Facebook groups.  Every now and again I check them all at the same time, and it has saved me loads of time.

But I then had to face facts that where I thought I was just going to take a few months off paid blogging work, I needed much longer.  So one day I took the big step of removing myself from the PR lists that I’d signed up to, and making an automatic reply that I could send back on any offers.  Such a shame, as I don’t choose many, and the few I do have been fun.  But the stress of then trying to fit in the review just isn’t worth it, unless I write a pants one on the way home in the car!

But then what happened.  FIVE minutes later!

I got invited to something I’d ALWAYS wanted to go to.

Crufts!

Crufts 2014

It might sound daft to a non-dog lover, but I’ve always wanted to go and I knew that the kids would get really inspired by seeing the shows, agility and obedience.

Plus I was invited by the one organisation that I will still be working for this year as an ambassador – the Forestry Commission.

Paws Outdoors

So the point to the trip was that the Kennel Club and the Forestry Commission signed a new agreement at Crufts.  The Club will encourage/remind it’s owners to be thoughtful when walking their dogs.  The commission is encouraging families to include their doggie friends with them on their walks.  (It’s more complicated than that, but I thought you might like the simple version!).

The Forestry Commission have created a ‘Ruff Guide‘ with tips on the best forests to go to with dogs, special activities being put on for dog owners, and tips on how to take care of our dogs whilst we are out.  I love taking the whole family to Wendover Woods, our local FC forest, so I think it is great to encourage more people to go walking with their dogs.

There is something special about a walk when we all go together – maybe because dogs remind us of the simple enjoyment of being in the woods, smelling the fresh air and running around.

The Problem

BUT.

There we were at Crufts at their wonderful ‘Discover Dogs’ section, surrounded by every make of dog.

And then the kids found the Lowchen pen ….

Kids and Lowchens

Look at the happy smile on Curly Headed Boy’s face, and the tiny little thing that Little Dimples has found quietly sitting in the corner …

Lowchens and children

 

And then they put the little one in my lap …… the poor Northern Hairy One was doomed.

Family dogs

So Dudley the labradoodle (the best, but most moulting dog in the world) has now got a little sister; which he is secretly quite chuffed about.

The two Norwegian Forest Cats, who are twice the size of her, have got their heads around it.

Lowchen and young children

And now the kids have someone to cuddle when they need a bit of chill time or are sick.

 

Lowchens and kids

Just look at those two!

I can’t wait to take her to Wendover with Dudley and let her experience the excitement of the woods.  Her little tail is wagging now when we walk her, although she can be a bit scared.  But soon she is going to become a brave adventurer like the translation of her name suggests; ‘Lion Dog’! (Yes, I know this is a crazy name for the smallest dog known to mankind!).

Many thanks to the Forestry Commission for sending us to Crufts.  I hope that any of you who have been nervous of taking your dogs out with you, will check out the Ruff Guide and take them with you next time!

By the way, if you think that your dog could be a star, there is a competition to put them forward as the face of the new 2014 Walkies campaign with the FC.

 

Sticks and magic

Things to do with sticksIt’s been tough, at times over the past few months.  I’ve been so busy that I was surprised and really chuffed to be asked to remain as an ambassador for the Forestry Commission (which means I get a membership to Wendover woods).

They sent us a lovely pack with a Stick Man book and a few other goodies, which as the kids already love that book, has gone to my salon for the kids there to enjoy on Mummy Mondays.  Julia Donaldson has teamed up with the FC to produce a range of events and activities to tie in with the character and encourage more families to explore the woods.

Do we need ideas and promotions like that?  Ideally no.  But in reality, yes we do.  Life gets busy, we lose our connections, and things like this help us to reconnect to ourselves, our kids and nature.

Check out this amazing post my Mammasaurus about a stick man hide and seek game that she made with the kids; pure magic!  My kids will love this.  Or this one from RedTedArt’s archives on making stickmen; so easy!

In fact my kids LOVE sticks!  Do you have a collection of sticks at your front and back door too (not allowed in the house)?

Nature is a wonderful support to me.  Going for a ‘family walk’ on sunday is one of my favourite things; even when it gets chaotic as often happens with a dog, 2 kids and the ‘do we take scooters, push chairs or bikes – and which one will create less hassle on the way’ decision

Does it work for you too?

Get out there this weekend and have some fun with sticks!

 

For more information and activity sheets, as well as dates of trails at specific locations please visit www.forestry.gov.uk/stickman.

For a chance to win one of 5 Forestry Commission Stick Man goody bags, simply sign up to receive the Forestry Commission e-newsletter at www.forestry.gov.uk/moreinfo quoting the code STICKMAN.

Stick Man trails are running at the places / dates below, encouraging children to find out more about forests and the importance of wood and trees to their daily lives.:
Bedgebury Pinetum, Kent
23rd November to 30th January
Birches Valley at Cannock Chase, Staffordshire
26th October to 5th January
Dalby Forest, Yorkshire
30th November to 31st January
Delamere Forest, Cheshire
2nd November to 26th January
Grizedale forest, Cumbria
30th November to 31 January
Haldon Forest Park, Exeter
30th November to 31 January
High Lodge, Suffolk
4th November to 31st January
Sherwood Pines, Nottingham
7-8th, 14-15th, 21-22th December and 1st-31st January
Wendover woods, Buckinghamshire
18th November to 29th January
Westonbirt Arboretum, Gloucestershire
1st December to 31st January
Whinlatter Forest, Cumbria
30th November to 31 January
Wyre Forest, Worcestershire
1st November to 31st January

 

*Disclosure I’ve been given a membership to Wendover woods and am an Ambassador for the Forestry Commission, but I’m basically too busy to do a post unless I really care about something, so you can be sure that I’ve not been influenced by that!

Back to the moon for good

Will we make it ‘Back to the moon for good’?

Space manAt the end of the last half-term we took a very excited Curly Headed Boy (nearly 8) and Little Dimples (3.5) to the National Space Centre in Leicester for the first time for the launch of ‘Back to the moon for good’.

Honestly I had absolutely no idea what on earth the launch was about!  But I’d wanted to go to the space centre for years, so when they contacted us to go and have a look we jumped at the chance.

Some people suggested that possibly the kids were still a little too young for it all.

 

Did they like it?

When we first got there the excitement did make it a bit manic; eventually some tough words slowed CHB down and at last we could enjoy it.

The secret is: take your time.

If you rush around you will miss bits, as there are loads of fascinating things to see and do for all the ages.  But if running around too fast means that it just becomes a crazy stress situation.

Review national space centreOur favourite was ‘The Rocket Tower’ – the 1960’s room was really funny, and they got to pretend to be in a rocket that was taking off.

I loved ‘The Planets’ – I feel that my knowledge of them is really shaky and I’d love to know more.

Little Dimples was too short to go in the simulator, which CHB loved; but I didn’t mind as I saw a few people coming out very very queasy from there!

We didn’t get to any of the presentations or activities, there was already so much to do.

I think however young they are, they really gained some understanding of the history of space travel so far for mankind, in a really fun way.

The only problem was that I had obviously mis-sold it and LD cried at the end because we hadn’t actually gone into space!

 

Back to the moon for good

Back to the moon for goodAt the end of the day we went into the ‘Planetarium’ for the ‘Back to the moon for good’ presentation.

Wow!

It’s all about the ‘Google Luna XPRIZE’ for $30million for the first PRIVATE team to send something to the moon, that is then capable of travelling 500 meters and sending back pictures.

The ramifications are HUGE because by doing this on a budget with no government involvement, the imagination is amazing as to how people are getting round the problems.  They are sure to create things that we will then be able to use elsewhere as well.

I left really inspired and hope that we get lots more media coverage of all the different teams and their machines.

It’s REALLY exciting what they are trying to do.

 

* Disclosure: we were given a family ticket to go to the space centre, but honestly we would have gone eventually anyway.  I’m really chuffed that we got to see the back to the moon for good show though.

 

 

 

 

My Little Pony Review

Why a ‘cutie mark’ is so important for my daughter

My Little Pony ReviewAbout 6 months ago I decided to cut back on TV watching and banned Cbeebies etc from being on as much.  It took me several weeks to discover that Little Dimples (then just turned 3) had worked out to use YouTube – argh!

Not just that, but she had worked out how to stick the headphones on for the computer so that I wouldn’t hear the tell tale signs!  Little Minx!

It was during this that she discovered My Little Pony and fell head over heels in love (how she found it I have NO IDEA!).  Obviously there is a lot to love – ponies, sparkles, pink, magic etc etc.  But actually as I started to catch more of the story I started to understand the fascination.

At first we could find everything on Youtube and then they disappeared, which caused us lots of tears in the house.  Then I was contacted by a lovely PR and I understood why they had disappeared – because they are now available on DVD!

The first story is lovely about how Rainbow Dash discovers that whilst learning is important, so is friendship – and that it creates magic in life.  I love this story as I was a much too serious and studious little girl, and I wouldn’t want my children to be quite that good (I know I might regret that one day!).

The second DVD ‘Call of the Cutie’ has a story on it explaining about how every pony has a ‘cutie mark’ on them that gives them their identity.  Now my gorgeous little girl was born with what they call a ‘stork mark’ on her head.  It’s basically a birth mark where the claws of the stork would be if they really did fly a baby to it’s mother.  Most has faded, but the flash on her forehead still shows when she is having a tantrum (she isn’t slow in coming forward about how she feels about things).  She also has a ‘zip’ all the way down her back.

I have a large strawberry birthmark just below the bra line, and I know that it has caused me many odd looks.  Little Dimple’s is more noticeable and I was wondering how to explain it to her one day when it gets pointed out.  But MLP answered that for me and I could photograph her ‘cutie mark’ for her and show her that she too has one, so she is ‘special’ like the ponies.

I’m also a BIG fan of learning about yourself, and learning to be you.  Just you.  No one else.  Which is a strong message in Ponyville.

They now have Equestria girls as well – Little Dimples is in 7th heaven with the dolls that go with them.

Christmas is coming up and you are bound to get requests for presents.  A DVD is always a useful thing to have, but it can be tricky to pick something that doesn’t have a downside – like Barbie’s neck.  I love the MLP series, so reckon they are a good bet for you (even Curly Headed Boy watches them, but don’t tell anyone).

But don’t forget what I mentioned in my previous post about Christmas – there is no point to rushing around like a headless chicken and not enjoying yourself!

 

Disclosure: I was sent a couple of CD’s by the PR for My Little Pony.  I’m not reviewing things at the moment, but as my daughter loves MLP, it wasn’t difficult to agree to review it for them!  They are available in all good retailers and www.clearvision.co.uk priced £12.99. Certification U: Suitable for all audiences.

my Handmade cushion

The Power of making a cushion!

I love synchronicity!

I was just leaving Radio Verulam a couple of months ago when I saw a sign for ‘Homespun Living‘ and thought ‘Oh that’s a small business I should contact to see if I can help’ (check out my tips for small businesses).  As soon as I got home, there was an email from Helen asking if I’d like to review her course on ‘How to use your sewing machine’!

So a couple of weeks ago I appeared in her classroom, very nervous, along with 4 other women.  I was having flashbacks of the shirt I made that was so bad that the cat peed on it, and the disgusting dress that was like torture to wear!

But I came home with THE MOST GORGEOUS CUSHION and full of too many ideas of things that I want to make now.

I’ve realised that it is like sport vs exercise; we exercise for fun and health, not because we are good at it.  I’m going to start doing more crafty stuff because it is good for my health in a Zen like way, not because I’m any good at it!

 

my Handmade cushion
The most gorgeous cushion in the world!

Top Tips

My sewing machine was pants, it didn’t have a ‘go slow’ option at all, in fact it scared the living daylights out of me everytime it started.  You are looking to spend £120 or so, not £60!  (It’s my birthday in a month – yay!).

Dress fabric will wash, but fades for curtains.

Curtain fabric is dry clean only, but could be used for a dress.

Have wonderful scissors, and NEVER use them on paper.

I now chant “Foot Down, Needle Down, Peddle Down”!

Youtube and blogs are your friend!  I’ve pinned a pile of easy things to make here.

 

Does it save money?

Handmade with love
Handmade with love

It can definitely actually cost you more in the end, as now material etc can be quite expensive.  You need to be discerning about what you think about making.

It’s more about getting exactly what you want really.

I think that if you have expensive taste, then you can copy expensive styles and save money that way.

It’s great if you want something specific too.  Many older women are constantly furious about the lack of sleeves in dresses, and this would be a great option.  I like tunics, but find them hard to come by (I like my bum covered), so I might try making myself one.

For me it will save money in bags and boxes – I can now make as many as I like and keep my little heart satisfied!

I’m also planning on making curtains and cushions for the kids playhouses, and I have some ideas for really cheap but cute presents for people.  It will also save some money on a big secret project I am working on.

Knitting definitely doesn’t save money, unless you are making a jumper that would cost over £100 when you bought it.

 

Other Courses

She also offers some other courses that I really fancy like the one to make pyjamas and one to make children’s fancy dress; you know those panic evenings when we get short notice to make a camel!

Helen is lovely, so if you have ever thought of getting your head around your sewing machine, then I can highly recommend her!

If you aren’t within 30mins of St Albans, then have a look around.  This is the one big silver lining behind the recession; little companies like Helen’s are popping up all over the place to help you find your creative side.

 

Disclosure: I attended Helen’s course for free, but that doesn’t affect my opinion

 

Feather Bowers at Just So

Go on try something new – a festival or camping?

Life’s still hard with the recession and we all need some fun and adventure in our lives, so for this month’s Lifestyle feature over on Radio Verulam with the lovely Danny smith on his Drivetime show, I talked about festivals and camping.

I first decided to got to a festival when Little Dimples was 18months (two years ago) and Curly Headed Boy was 5.  I’d NEVER been to a festival and felt a bit mortified by it.  I decided if we started now with the kids, they might TAKE ME when they go to Glastonbury in 15yrs time!

Since then I’ve actually become a fan of camping too.  We started glamping, but due to the cost my practical side chose camping with a touch of glamp last year.

Listen here to me chatting with Danny here:

 

Why Go?

Music is good for the soul, it feeds our spirit and gives us a much needed lift.  One thing you can be sure about is that the quality of the music will be MUCH better than anything you see on Xfactor.

It’s great for kids because they learn to sit and listen to music, and the festivals I go to they tend to get to chill, run around and dance.  If you go to a family festival there will be all sorts of lovely things for the kids to do as well.  CHB says that a 3day festival is like going on holiday for 10days!

If you are brave enough to go for several days and try camping it is even better.  There is something about camping and it’s closeness to nature which is relaxing and healing at the same time.  We tried a motorhome at the beginning of this year, but despite being more practical it just didn’t have the same benefits for me.

my son and me in a motorhome
Top bunk is always best

 

 

Tips and Concerns

I know it can be intimidating, so I’ve put together my top tips for you to get you inspired to go!

The biggest reason to go is if you haven’t done it before, then NOW is the time to try it.  Be ADVENTUROUS.  Make memories to look back on and say ‘I did that’!

 

1) Start Small and Local

The key is not to go to Glastonbury on your first year (although they do have a family area)!  Go for small ones (5000 and under).  Look for local one day festivals so that you don’t have to camp.

Local to me in hertfordshire are:

St Albans Folk Festival Sorry I didn’t manage to publish in time –  (22-23rd June) – terrible website btw guys!

Folk by the Oak – Hatfield House – Sunday 21st July – I’m really looking forward to this festival.  Check out this youtube of Kate Rusby:

Folk Stock – Aldenham country park – 21st September –

Here is a fab way of hearing all their artists on a sound cloud.

They have got my FAVE artist coming – JonPaul Palombo

Celtic Harmony do a Beltane (See my video review here) and Samhain Festival each year.

Plus we had loads of fun at Hoo Bookfest, so I really recommend that for next year.

 

2) Planning

Feather Bowers at Just So
You are never too old for a feather bower or hair garland!

Plan ahead so that you know what is on BUT also go with the flow as it can be too stressful to keep to a schedule.

Go with friends.

Explain to your kids about safety, and make sure that you have one of those wristbands with your mobile number on it.  Or this weekend at Britmumslive I was given a Kattoo which looks brilliant (tattoo for your mobile no).

Bring Ear defenders for the kids and a picnic blanket to sit on.

3) Family Festivals

It really helps your sense of safety if you go to a family festival.

Lollibop – This is a London festival with a big kids TV orientation.  I’ve never been, but I’ve heard that it is great.  It would probably be a bit too commercial for me.

Camp Bestival – This is in Dorset and looks to me to be incredibly well organised.  Again there is a bit of a Cbeebies theme going on.  It feels to me like they try to make sure that all the practicalities that a ‘middle class’ family would worry about are covered.

Just So – This is a magical, more artsy festival with a hugely magical vibe.  Here’s my mammoth review from 2012 (same location as this year, so you might like last year’s planning post too) and my review from 2011.

 

4) Weather and what to wear

An example of what I wore
Festival style from the back!

Remember this is all part of the adventure!  We went to the Penn Festival (eighties music) last year, which was more of a mudfest.  The kids LOVED it.  All you need to make sure is that they are covered from head to toe in water proofs.  We also had a small pop up tent, that we used near the stage.

Bring lots of layers so that you can take stuff on and off.

What to wear – Leggings or skinny jeans are the easiest, with a pretty dress or long top over them.  No heals, instead go for daps/wellies.  A flower garland is essential (BE BRAVE!).

Check out my what to wear to festivals post with lots of ideas for you and links to my Pinterest boards.

 

Money

I don’t like the ones with lots of things to spend money on like the Herts County Show, buy, or things that kids will want to do that cost a fortune; so we tend to avoid those ones.

What you can also do is give the kids a budget, so that they know they just have £x and that is all.

Food can be expensive, so make sure you take water, squash, snacks and fruit.  Check if breakfast is provided if you are camping otherwise brioche is fab.

 

Loos and Showers

Actually again because I go to small ones or family ones they aren’t too bad.  But always take LOO PAPER and anti-bacterial spray.

Some actually have great showers BUT you can get away with a day of showering with wet wipes (it’s not as bad as it sounds!).

 

Camping

How to make your tent look Glam
Camping with glamp

Take ear plugs (just incase you are near someone having too much fun or kids that wont sleep), a wooly hat, socks, and extra jumper for night time.

Bring something to put mudding shoes in, so that they don’t come in the tent.

If there are just a couple of you then you can get a festival kit ever so cheaply with everything that you need.  There is nothing wrong with going for ‘cheap’ shops like argos etc.

If you have a little more money to spend then check out the pop up tents (a bit tricky to put away) or the Vango blow up tent we have.

The best beds are the mats that puff up; air beds are actually cold.

Bunting is a MUST!

Here is my ultimate camping list (you don’t need it all!).

 

Finding

Festivals for all – great site for all types of festival

Festival Kidz – specifically for taking kids

Forestry Commission – I’m an ambassador for the FC and was gutted to realise too late that they do concerts.  How gorgeous to see someone like Olly Murs AND be in a forest.

 

At the end of the day

Go on, try it.  It’s fun.  It’s simple.  It’s pretty cheap in comparison to a package holiday.

And you’ll have something to tell your grandchildren that will give them the impression that you didn’t wash up all day long!

Have you started camping in the last few years?  What do you reckon?

Have I inspired you to try a festival this year?

 

Acrobatics from a tree

Review of Celtic Harmony Beltane Festival

Acrobatics from a tree
Acrobatics from a tree

At the beginning of May we went off to Celtic Harmony in Hertford for their Beltane Festival.

I’m very interested in the times of the year and the month, how they affect us, and how it can be helpful to be more aware of them.

Someone once said I have a witchy vibe, in a nice ‘white witch’ sort of way; maybe it’s my ‘inner celt’ coming out!  So this year I did a little Beltane ‘ritual’ with the kids, so that they could understand that the seasons were changing and was really excited to go to a festival.  But we’ve been to a lot of much bigger festivals than this, so I was a little worried what the kids would think.

I needn’t have worried.  It was chilled, simple, well organised, had clean loos (the best I’ve ever seen) and the kids came back relaxed and happy.

There is something about giving them the space to run around safely, jump on hay bales, make apple spirals from old fashioned machines and watch very old fashioned entertainment (i.e. from Celtic times), that really works for kids.

Both kids tried the archery, and Curly Headed Boy (7) is totally hooked.

I loved the dancing doing the acrobatic display in a hoop hanging from a tree.

There was a bird rescue stall with a raven (OMG it’s huge), magpie (so friendly) and crow; all of which the children could stroke, which was really unusual.

Many things repeated all day, so there was always a chance to have a go at it, like the drumming workshops (I’d actually appeared with a headache, so we didn’t try that, but my headache was gone by the end of the day, which shows how relaxed I was).

There was a wonderful owl display (although it did go on a little while), great fairy queen fight as the summer fairy beat the winter fairy (not sure that has actually happened in real life, although the sun is out today!), and fire breathing with a story about dragons.

We didn’t manage to do the story telling walk as Little Dimples was a little tired.  But she loved the may pole dancing, and Curly Headed Boy joined in with the final procession.

If I was going to suggest any changes at all, they would be to provide bigger signs (it can be a little tricky to see when also keeping an eye on 2 children), more choices of snacks (it’s surprisingly hungry work), and even more Celtic-ness (did they have jesters, or druids?).

I’m definitely keen to go to their Samhain festival in october, and take Curly Headed Boy along to learn archery in their covered barn as soon as I have a bit more time in my currently hectic schedule, and their summer Bushcraft courses look wonderful.

Now drum roll please!!!!  Here is my first ever, clever video of loads of clips put together.  I have sweated a pile over this, hope you love it!!

 

Now tell me that wasn’t fabulous!!

 

 

Kirstie Allsopp Britmumslive

Britmums 2013 review – Goods, bads, facts, inspirations, cake and most of all friends

Kirstie Allsopp Britmumslive
Kirstie Allsopp Britmumslive

Here is my review of Britmums 2013:

I turned up very overwhelmed with trying to spend time with the kids, keep my blog going, plans to start a new Woodcraft Folk group in September, and a new HUGE mega secret project.

I’ve come away with facts and inspiring ideas that will help me manage it all.

Most of all I had lots of tea and cake and met 75% of the people I wanted to meet and some new ones, which was wonderful.

Most was perfect, a couple of things I didn’t like.

 

I’ve talked about:

I also did a quick review of the kids trips to the Cutty Sark, boat trip, Aquarium and London Zoo and the kids appear unprompted a couple of times.

 

 

Let me know what you think about this new idea of mine to do more on video – I reckon I can get more posts out this way, as it’s much quicker to talk through stuff than write it (I polish too much!).

 

Jen, Penny and Me!
Jen, Penny and Me!

 

 

Blogs

How to use a blogger in your business

Blogs
Blogs

I think that bloggers are the perfect match for small to medium sized businesses to help them get their names out into the world.  The big brands are already using us.  But there is a lot to be said for focussing on smaller, niche or local businesses instead.  So here are my tips on how to go about it if you are a business:

 

1) What’s the point?

Have you heard that someone needs to hear about your product/service 27 times before they sign up?  That’s a lot of times!

Bloggers can help with PR (Public Relations e.g. reviews), SEO (Search Engine Optimisation i.e. being found), Marketing (getting the word out there) and Social Media (twitter, Facebook etc).  Some can even write sales copy for you.  Plus they can be a very inexpensive and direct way of being seen by your customers versus adverts which are more of a splatter gun approach.

I have a ‘spiritual’ perspective on marketing.  It’s less about selling or pushing your business and more about making sure that the people who want to, can find you.  If you don’t put your hands up in the air and say ‘here I am‘, then they can’t find you!

 

2) Some technical points

There are rules about how we can help (some people will break the rules for enough money):

1) We have to disclose that we got money or a freebie in return for our post – it’s illegal not to.  (I would not recommend working with someone willing to break this rule for moral reasons, but I’m not fussy about how it is disclosed, officially it should use the word ‘sponsored’).

2) Google doesn’t like people paying for ‘follow’ links because they have adverts for that!  A follow link is where google reads the blog post, sees a link and follows it to where it goes to, thereby marking the link as showing an important site.  Bloggers who take paid for follow links will want extra money because google can strip them (and you) of their page rank (how findable they are on google).  It’s not illegal though.  But I wouldn’t advise it.  The alternative is a no-follow link.

 

3) Money, money, money

Money
Money

Remember, if we work for you, we are taking time out from doing other to do’s or being with our kids.  But we do understand that budgets can be limited, especially if you are a small business or charity (we are less forgiving for a big company paying a PR team to contact us!).

There are three reasons we will help:

1) We need the money – for this one you will have to pay for our time and expenses fairly.

2) For treats for the kids we couldn’t afford otherwise – it’s lovely in this day and age to be able to do this (holiday offers always welcome *grin*).

3) For something we are passionate about – mine is festivals, being outside, books and music.

How much would we expect?

I charge £100 for a post with a link.  £50 for a competition because the admin is tiresome, despite the fact that I get to give something away.  I might charge for a review if it is a very cheap product.  However, nowadays I do hardly any of these kinds of posts because I don’t enjoy them.  I also do free posts, but I limit how many purely because of time constraints.

If I’m busy, but like your stuff I’ll ask you to send me a tweet and I’ll RT it for you (please don’t email it to me; use twitter).  I do this for free, for things I like.  Other people charge £5 per time.

Some bloggers will do follow links (see technical points) for £200.  There are also bloggers would will write you a quick post for £20.

 

4) SEO – being found

Because of the follow/no-follow rule, a blogger might not be able to help you out too much with follow links which helps you be found on Google (unless they end up loving you so much that they write something for free), but they can write a good post, with great keywords that points to you.

They can also help with the practicalities like setting up your facebook page.  For some businesses twitter is also great as many of your customers would expect to be able to use it to get hold of you.  Google+ might not be a very active place right now, apart from for bloggers; but being there will help with ‘being found’.

If your business is visual, pretty or product based, then they can help you get started on Instagram or Pinterest.

They will also know tips for you to start up your own blog (posts of once or twice a month are probably sufficient) and the key words (found using google analytics) that will help drive people to your site.  A blog is a great way to put a personality behind your business – just a great product isn’t enough when you need to create loyalty.

Some bloggers run consultancies where they help companies like yours by running their social media and blogging for them.  It’s a great option.

 

5) Reviews

It’s a great idea to get a blogger to review your service/product as it can be much more indepth than on Amazon or something like that.

But remember, they will be HONEST!  So make sure they are a good match and your product is good.

If your product is cheap and you can’t afford to pay anything additional, you might suggest that the blogger include it in a post with other products e.g. if you are selling candles, they could be included in a post about ‘presents for mothering sunday’.

If you would like them to come and visit your location, then they may need expenses too.  In the early days there were many times that a blogging event cost me a LOT more in time and money than I received from it.  I don’t charge for travel to a festival, but I would to review a film in London (plus ask for the DVD – been there on that expense 6 months later!).

Make sure that you keep a record of the reviews.  You can tweet them out every now and again for your customers to read and add them to your website.

 

6) Competitions

As well as reviewing your product (or instead of), you could give them one to give away in a competition.  Competitions are particularly useful in increasing your followers on twitter and facebook, as you can have following as an additional entry option to the competition.

Please note however that competitions and writing a post do take time and administration, so unless it is a product that will really increase the bloggers views, they will probably want to charge you an admin fee.

Be thoughtful about how you want the competition advertised.  There are sites that we can put the competition on in order to increase the hits.  But this means that ‘professional compers’ are likely to enter, who might not be interested in your product at all.

 

7) How to find them

magnifying glass
magnifying glass

You can contact companies that provide an intermediary service e.g. Tots100, Britmums and Best British Bloggers.  I do not know what the charges are.  You can also look through the Tots100 and Ebuzzing lists, but bear in mind that not everyone places themselves in the lists.  The Britmums roundups will give you blogs with specific interests.

Or you can do some research using key words that help: e.g. mummy blogger St Albans, Top uk mummy bloggers, mummy blogger weight loss, mummy blogger crafting, mummy blogger style

Or you can go into twitter and search on key words e.g. St Albans, vintage, candles, festivals etc

Once you have one blogger, they might be able to get you a list of other bloggers for you to check out.  This can be a BIG hassle though (bloggers can be difficult to organise) – I’ve done it before and probably wouldn’t do it for free again, apart from for someone I loved a LOT!  I now tend to offer to put your email address in a specific facebook group instead, and let you deal with the impending chaos ;o)

 

8) How to make contact

Bloggers tend to love twitter (about 99%).  So find your blogs, follow them on twitter, and add them to a specific column or list so that their updates don’t disappear into a huge pile of updates.

DO NOT send them a twitter message saying ‘Hi, I’m local, please tweet out my page’ – you are a stranger to them, it would be like walking up to someone you don’t know in the street and asking them to hand your business card out.  Basically you would look like a weirdo (I unfollow people who do this immediately).

Relationships online take time – use some discernment.  Don’t follow people just because they are popular.  Follow people because you are actually interested in them and give the relationship some time to brew.

Then when they say something that is interesting, reply to it.  If they write a good blog post retweet it for them (subscribing to their blog would be a good idea).  Start to chat regularly.  Then when it feels right you can mention that you have a product/service and would they like to chat about working with you.  It’s quite possible that if you are up their street, they will mention it before you even get there – I have done for festivals I fancied.  Try not to be sycophantic or to jump to offer your services without first establishing a need.

Alternatively, once you have a list of bloggers, then you can send them an email.  Always approach them using their name in the ‘hello’ of your email – I don’t reply to anything without my name in it.  I would recommend sending a separate email to each blogger with a sentence or two that shows you have read some of their blog.  If you send a blanket mail, use BCC (blind copy) for the email addresses, but I warn you, it’s less likely to be popular.

Remember, however wonderful you are or your product is, these bloggers are busy mums and may get several PR pitches a day.  They don’t read their email every day.  They need time to plan things.  They can’t do 100 reviews all at once.  They are less available during holidays and the week before and after them.  They also talk, so if you send out a second round of invites due to little interest in the first round, they are likely to know they were your second choice!

 

9) Picking Bloggers

I Love Your BlogMake sure that you read their about page and check the ages of their kids and their suitability.  Is it likely that their readership would suit your business? For example, I do NOT blog about parenting, just about being a mum.  So I don’t want posts about baby food or pushchairs on my site and my kids are too old any way.

You could pick LOTS of less popular blogs and get a bigger coverage.  Or pick a handful of blogs that are more popular.

Make sure that you have spent time reading the reviews that they have already done.  Do they just whack them out, or do they put an interesting spin on it?  Do they use photo’s, maybe even videos?

Have they reviewed similar things?  That might be good or bad news, depending on your subject!  For example, loads of positive reviews on push chairs, might not make them sound reliable.  But lots of interesting reviews about holidays or adventurous things to do as a family might make them be considered a bit of an expert on the subject.

This takes time, but otherwise you are wasting your money and resources.

 

10) What to expect

Ask them how long the post is likely to be, and how they will ‘pimp’ it out for you.  You are looking for 500 words or more with photos.  Videos are great for reviews, especially by kids.

I tweet 3 times at different times of the day over a couple of days.  I send to my facebook profile, page and google once.  But for some posts they will be marked with tags e.g. summer or festivals, which means that I will probably reuse them during quiet periods.  Also some of my posts are listed on pages too.  Probably not product reviews, but a couple of the holidays have been so good that I included them in my ‘Adventure’ page.

Some bloggers ‘hide’ their reviews somewhere other than the home page – make sure that they aren’t doing that for you.  They can also ‘hide’ them by publishing them over a weekend if that is their quiet time.  Watch out for this.

Ask how many reviews or competitions they will be running.  Unless that is what the site is all about, you don’t want to be hidden away under a huge pile of them.

Afterwards you can ask for how many ‘hits’ the post received.  If it is a good post, it should also get hits/reads all throughout the year and beyond.  Your webstats will be able to show you when someone comes to your site via the blog (of course, this misses people who come to your site because of the blog, rather than via it).

 

11) Statistics

Stats don’t mean everything, for example, they don’t show you how trusted a blogger is; but they can be helpful.

I would ask for

  • followers on their online communities e.g. twitter, Facebook etc
  • monthly views
  • monthly unique views (i.e. how many people, not how many pages they view)
  • awards or inclusion in Britmums roundups or Tots100 faves
  • media coverage
  • rankings in lists
  • page rank (how important google thinks they are – probably from 0-5)
  • If they have youtube – what are their visitor stats
  • Klout shows how much they tweet

Here are mine, to give you some kind of example.  I’d say I’m an ‘above average’ blogger, not one of the ‘top’ ones, but with a definite brand, message and trusted reputation.

 

12) Top Tips

Keep working with a small number of bloggers where possible – stop flitting from one to another.  It might add breadth, but no loyalty and as you are likely to have less budget, what you want to create is loyalty.

We don’t need guest posts written by your PR people.  We are bloggers.  We write.  We probably have loads of draft posts that we haven’t managed to write yet!  So don’t get fooled into offering us ‘free content’ as though we should be glad to get it.

Mummy bloggers are flakey.  We over promise.  Our kids get sick.  We get sick.  So you probably want a few more than you would think for your campaign, and expect to have a couple fall by the wayside.

We aren’t interested in press releases.  We might be interested in your newsletter with news about what is going on though.

 

13) Campaign

”Official

I think that by far the most successful use of bloggers I have seen is in long term relationships with a campaign.

You will need a proper project plan for the campaign for this, which means that you can then fit it in around important dates in your diary as well.  Create a hashtag for the campaign e.g. #WeLoveForests #DoSomethingYummy so that everyone involved can keep track of related posts and RT them.

Be careful and check what other campaigns are running at the same time, especially if you are a charity.  There can be ‘charity overload’ especially at the beginning of the year.

If you have a number of bloggers involved, you will need to create a calendar and plan ahead when everyone does their posts.  Personally I prefer them all spread out than all at once.

You could have a twitter party with the hashtag, but it can be unpopular, read this post for more information by Geekalicious.

It’s a great idea to have a badge as well for each blogger.  They would put it on their sidebar to show that they are associated with you.  I worked with Siblu holidays last year and they have sponsored a few of us to go to Britmumslive in return for a badge and a couple of posts.  They have also created a page where they list all the posts that we did last year for them and another specifically for Britmumslive.

Nickie from ‘I am Typecast’ ran a campaign for Clic for a month and was brilliantly orchestrated.  It had a huge sense of community and really got them noticed.

I’m an ambassador for the Forestry Commission.  I thought I was just writing a blog post reviewing the local forest in review for a membership card.  But it has been a lot more than that and I’ve actually really enjoyed it.  We have a hash tag, facebook group to create a community amongst the bloggers, and pinterest board.  I may not have made lots of money from this campaign, but it has actually helped increase my own interest in forests and I now have a big passion for the whole thing.

In comparison I’ve reviewed some clothes for Joe Browns which I love.  But they don’t connect the bloggers they work with, so there is no way that we could create a community and RT other posts.  They are just going for more of a scattergun approach with reviews on lots of blogs.

Some companies create blogging competitions, where we have to write a blog post in order to potentially win the competition.  Personally I hate these, but I can see that they are worth it if the prize is good enough.

 

14) Adverts

It might be worthwhile to look into advertising on a blog if what you are looking for is a regular reminder of your shop or product.  But it can be an expensive option, so it really depends on your product/service, budget and who is available.

There would be times when it would be useful for the readers to have a link to your site e.g. an advert for your kitchen utensil business on a local bloggers side bar, or for a kids craft boxes business on a craft blog.

An advert costs about £10 per page rank, per month.  You are most likely looking at a blog of Page Rank 3, so that is £30pm.  You will need to pay 3 months in advance, but you could get a discount for a long term blog.  It’s not bad value when you look at an advert in a magazine etc.  Definitely better value than a facebook advert, but you could still do with a Google Ad for your key words.

 

Who are you ?
Who are you ?

15) Affiliates

I’m not really convinced by affiliate programs.  I think that it only works if they have also done a review and there is a clear match with their blog, especially as it puts the bloggers opinion slightly under question as it could be influenced by earning money.

Also they probably need to be getting a mammoth amount of hits per day for it to be worth it for the blogger.  This would be ideal for a craft blogger – one of the big ones gets thousands of views a day.  I was once an affiliate for a membership site, where I got 50% of the join up fee – this worked really well for me and the client  (it was before my blog), I think that the lesson there is to be generous with your affiliate %.

 

At the end of the day

Remember to use discernment.  Don’t jump on a band wagon on how to behave if it doesn’t suit you or your company or feels dodgy.

There are no quick options, but bloggers make a great long term option for any business that has ‘people’ as it’s customers, and I think that they can be much more useful to you than adverts.

If you would like to know more about blogging, check out the rest of my posts.

Here is a list of all my reviews, just incase you want to see what sorts of things a blogger might do.

 

So bloggers, what do you think? – this tends to be a controversial subject!