interview with Karen Strunks

Would you like to find out how to be more productive, run your business better and live the life you always wanted to live? Yes? Then you definitely need to read this! On Friday 29th,in cafe Nero, our outreach specialist, Izabela Wisniewska, talked to Karen Strunks, experienced life coach, photographer, social media specialist, and key figure in Birmingham’s social media community. Her work was featured in BBC, The Guardian, Radio 4, Time Out NYC, The Telegraph and BBC Radio Wales.  Find out how Karen came to the point where she is, living the life she always wanted , and check out her advice on how you can get to the same point too.

If you’d like Karen to help you , visit her website. I am sure she will find the best solutions either for you, your business or both !

interview with Karen strunks cafe nerointerview with Karen Strunks cafe nero

BCM: So, what made you decide to become a life coach?

K: Oh that’s a long story (laughs)

BCM: You can give me a short version

K: Short version, okay, so about 15 years ago, I was working 9-5 in a company that I didn’t like, doing job that I didn’t enjoy with people that I didn’t like being around, and I just got really depressed. It wasn’t very good for my health . . . it was really destroying. And it just happened! I can’t even remember, it may have been a newspaper clipping because I hadn’t even got the internet.

I found a newspaper clipping, saying become a life coach, and train for free. It was with a collage and it was by this established lifecoach, Fiona Harrold. And I just took the opportunity. It was kind of a journey of self development  I began doing the course and I found myself benefiting from it, from being depressed about my job to thinking ,actually, I have a choice here, I can take control over my life, I can make decisions where I want to be and not just accept where I am and be miserable. It was really a catalyst for a kind of change of my life – I left that  job, I went travelling, and now I am working for myself and have complete control over my life. Now I am helping other people to do the same through life coaching.

interview with karen strunks

BCM: What is that you like the most about your job?

K: Just one thing? I’ll tell you as many as I can.

I am my own boss. I have complete control, I set the timetable, I make the rules. I have control over who I spend my time with; whose company I keep. I think that’s a really important rule in business – only work with people that you like. Of course, being your own boss is that freedom of decision to make a business just with people that you really really like.

I think if I can sum it up in one word, it will be the F word ,the thing I like most about my job is freedom.

BCM: Is there anything you don’t like about your job?

K: What I don’t like about it? Yeah there are bits. I try to fill my time with the things I actually like doing, and I’ve been putting more effort this year into cutting out stuff that I don’t like doing, like taking care of the website, admining things. But I do not do it as much as I used to, and of course not to the point where business fall apart. Also, all of the accounting parts – I do not like doing that. I still do it myself, but I find it really boring.

I work on my own a lot, which I generally enjoy but occasionally I would like to have this opportunity to speak to someone. Luckily there are members of groups and communities online, so I can just reach out to people there.

I don’t think there is that much I don’t like about it, apart from those few little things.

BCM: Life coaching has been described as a form of psychotherapy, would you agree with that?

K: Well, its all about the mind and mindset, so yes, I guess there is an element of that. It’s about making a decision from where you are now, and taking control. One of the most powerful things I think is accepting full responsibility for where you are, for all the decisions that you’ve made, what brought you to this point, and also accepting that if you want to be in a certain place in the future, you are gonna have to take a full control of that as well, and make decisions based on that.

I’ve gone through this myself. I was blaming the world, when I wasn’t happy in my job I thought it was my bosses fault, my boyfriend fault, my parents fault, it’s everyone’s fault. It is kind of a blame mentality

BCM: It is how we usually react, its not my fault, it’s the world’s fault (laughs)

K: Yeah, it all happened to me. I didn’t make it happen, but when you actually realise that it was you who made it all happened, that’s really powerful.

So yes, going back to your original question, it is all definitely about the mind and mindset.

BCM: Could you give us an example of how to use social media in online marketing?

K: I wasn’t that hot on marketing for a while, because it all seemed to be one big business, but actually it all can be very individual and very personal.

To get marketing right, it is about having a conversation. It is not about talking at people; it’s about inviting people to talk to you, and hoping that they will. It can make a huge difference for a company or a business person if they have a presence online.

If I have to do business with somebody, the first thing I do is check if they are online. Or if I am choosing a product and trying to decide between two companies who sell something, I more likely will be persuaded by a company with an online presence.

The key is to keep it simple. I know you can have really complicated marketing plans and strategies, but what it is really about is keeping it simple, and have fun with your marketing. If you are having fun with your marketing it’s going to be successful, it’s going to stand out, it’s going to give good impression to other people, and they will more likely be attracted to that. Don’t make it all serious. Of course, all results and stats are important, and you must look at that, but think about what the receiver is going to get out of your message once you actually put it out. It’s not about “you you you” all the time.

BCM : Where did the idea of running Social Media Cafe came from?

K: That wasn’t my idea, that’s started about 6 or 7 years ago next month actually. I lost count of it’s birthday (laughs).

It started with a lady who worked for the Birmingham Post, a journalist called Joanna Geary. She is now actually working for Twitter. She started it, and based it on the Tuttle Club in London, which again was started by Lloyd Davis and is still going in London.  Joanna started the Birmingham Social Media Cafe, and the Birmingham Post actually sponsored the few first cafes before more sponsors came on board.

So Joanna Geary ran it for a couple of years, then it was handed over Chris Unitt.  He run it for a couple of years, and handed it to me about 3 or 4 years ago.

BCM: How did that happened?

K: He just asked me, he thought I would be the best person to run it. I knew Chris anyway, he knew how much  I was into social media. It was part of my business and my life – I was passionate about it.

BCM: So you’ve attended cafes before?

K: Yes, I attended the very, very early ones, then I had a little gap where I didn’t go (laughs). But one of the reasons I did take it over was that I could actually go out and meet up with people. I like the concept of it as well, obviously, but I live on my own and I work at home so I spend lot of time on my own, which I am fine with, but I thought at least once a month I will go out and meet people.

BCM: What was the original goal of Social Media Cafe?

K: Six or seven years ago, Social Media was sort of this new, emerging thing, and people got really excited about it. A lot of people in Birmingham were on the cutting edge with it, and Birmingham had a reputation of doing innovative stuff for social media.

It is just a place to get together for all sort of people – creative people, could be artists, film makers, photographers, social media and marketing people, journalists; you name it really. Not to offend anyone but its really for creatives, and more relaxed industries.

BCM: So can we call it a networking event?

K: Yes, people getting together, absolutely.

interview with Karen strunks

BCM: I know you are also a photographer, is there any place we can see your photographs? Are you still doing it?

K: So photography was what I was doing for work, and that’s what led me into social media. To promote my photography business, I knew I had to use social media, because I hadn’t really got any other ways to advertise, nor did I have the money to pay for traditional advertising. So I used social media to get my word out, to tell people about it.

Than I started a photography project called 4a.m. Basically I started going out in Birmingham, taking photos of the city at 4 am, and developed it worldwide, to the global collaboration “What’s your view on the world at 4a.m”. Lots of people collaborated, and you can find thousands of photographs there from about 50 countries. I really had to use social media to get this global photography off the ground and get people involved, so I was developing my interest for social media more and more.

So I had my photography business, but then I set up Karen Strunks Media which offers social media services, advice, and help with campaigns and stuff like that, and we also offer to run their online accounts. So I was running a photography company and a social media company, and to be honest it was too much. I couldn’t run both. As much as I love both, I had to let one go, and I let photography go last year.

It was really hard. You know when you have got that many passions, you can’t do everything. I just had to go with my instinct and go with what I am doing now.

Where are my photographs? I think I have taken my site down, but if you search for Karen Strunks on Flickr they certainly should be there. Also, you can go to 4amproject.org, and you can get the view of that project. I actually stopped running it, and it was for sale, so if anyone wants a global photography project, there is an option there. There are other peoples photographs on there as well, so you can get a lovely view of the world at 4am.

BCM: Looks like you are not a kind of person who just passively watches TV to relax. What is the way to relax for you?

K: Yeah, I see what you mean. No my TV consumption is very low. I watch films on TV and stuff like that, but I won’t just passively sit there. I just get too bored. I prefer to read something that’s gonna feed my brain or stimulate me. That way, I can learn something and make the most of every hour in the day.

I am very aware of what my mind is fed, so I don’t watch the news, I don’t listen to the news, and if I am in the shop I won’t even look at the newspaper section, because I don’t want to see the headlines. I don’t want to know about anything negative.

I watched the news for many years and it didn’t do me any good. And I think if I am going to watch the news, I’ll just be watching all the bad things happening. I know there are bad things happening in the world, but I don’t need that to be delivered to me, unless I am actually gonna take action and do something about it. Otherwise I will be just passive observer, and thats not good.

I feed my brain with as much positivity as I can, and that includes the people I spend time with. I am very kind of particular who I spend time with, and what their attitudes and positivity levels are like.

BCM: The thing with the news was very interesting. So do you think it will really be better for us to not know about all the bad things that are happening and to feed our brains just with a positivity? Do you see much of the difference between the times you actually watched the news and now?

K: Yes. Absolutely. One of the best things I have done is cutting out the news and that negativity, because you carry it around with you in your day. People watch the news in the morning, for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and that means they are observing 90 minutes of negativity in a day. How can that be healthy for you ? And not only that, because between that you are thinking about it or you are discussing it with other people. I’ll use my mom as an example. She is probably more aware now, but she used to say to me, “Oh did you see such and such?” and it was always bad news, and I was like, “Why are you telling me this? And why you actually listening to that? What are you going to do about it? Nothing”.

She watched the news morning noon and night, so three times a day. She was feeding her brain with what’s worst in the world, and that’s just what journalists delivered to you. There is a huge amount of things going on which are equally as bad or equally as good, so where is all the good news? That’s how I want to focus.

I don’t believe thats what worst in the world is going to help me to do run my business and do the best for myself. I’ve got to be in a good state of mind, to do what I do, and that includes not watching the news and spending time with negative people.

BCM: As a life coach, could you share with us some tips for improving productivity?

K: Oh yeah! I love productivity! I am always finding ways to be extra productive.

We can spend all day being busy and not actually get that much done. So let me think. . .

First thing, have a plan of action – know the day before what you are going to achieve the next day. Decide how long these tasks are going to take you, because if you allow yourself two hours for a task, it will take two hours. If you allow yourself an hour and concentrate on it, you will get it done in an hour. So decide the night before, or even a week before! I always plan my weeks; before I go to bed, I know what I am going to do next day. I suggest actually getting a diary. Schedule the time slots. Reserve that time for that task, and that task alone.

Next thing is, don’t be reactive. What I mean by that is I always have my phone on silent. I haven’t got any notifications coming on, I don’t keep my email open, I even keep the landline on silent. I don’t want to be in a reactive mode all the time. There is research, I can’t remember exact numbers, but when you are concentrating on the task and when you get really into it, and then the phone rings, even if it’s a 30 seconds conversation, once you put it down, it takes 15 minutes to get back into the groove. It’s very hard to switch straight back into that task you were doing, so take control and don’t be reactive.

What else you can do to be productive? When you are working on a task, just work on that task. Don’t jump from this task to that task. I have started using the pomodoro technique. I allow myself 25 minutes for a task and set a timer. In this 25 mins you work only on that task, and when you have got a break, you can do whatever – stretch your legs, make a phone call, whatever you like! But after this 5 minutes, you get back to the next 25 mins task.

So it’s cutting things into 25 mins slots, and when you hear that ding going off after 25 mins, you are really aware of the day passing by. Before you know it, it’s like 2 or 3 o’clock, but you will have got much more done thanks to doing one task at the time and scheduling it. Be as efficient as possible in that respect and you will skyrocket your productivity.

BCM: Can you give, general advice for business owners who want to run their business better?

K: Obviously what “better” means to people it will always vary. “Better” may mean more money, more clients, or something else entirely. But I am gonna interpret “better” as being happier. Alot of business owners moan about their business and moan about their clients, and as I said earlier, I think if you are going to go to the trouble of working for yourself, setting yourself up a business, being your own boss instead of having a boss, than you’ve got to be happy because of doing that and not working 9-5 for somebody else. You’ve got to be happy because it doesn’t make sense otherwise. Even if you can earn 10 times as much money, but you haven’t got that happiness factor, what are you doing it for?

I would say the thing to focus on is deciding what makes you happy, and don’t be afraid to change your business and change what you do in order to make yourself happy. I change mine all the time. If something doesn’t make me happy and doesn’t give me satisfaction any more, I stop doing it. You have to be willing to do that. Actually write out how do you want your days to look. How do you want to spend your day? Who do you want to spend your time with? What tasks do you want to do? Get a picture based on those things. Then actually fill your day with things that you will enjoy doing.

Also, you could choose to delay a “happy ending”. If you feel “Once I get this client I will be happy”, or, “Once I’ve got this deal, I’ll be happy”, you may want to delay that gratification to motivate yourself. Don’t be afraid to change things and go with your instincts more than thinking that things have to be done a certain way. Feel free to experiment as well; try different things, and get creative I guess, as it may lead to an even happier life!

BCM: How do you get rid off the fear of change?

K: See, if you are working a 9 to 5 job, you are in that safety zone and you are thinking “Okay, at the end of the month I am going to get paid with this much. I will pay the bills and I will have this much left over”. Having your own business doesn’t work like that. Some months will be great and some months will be less so, but maybe you’ll get to the stage where it’s consistently good and growing.

If you are spending time doing things you don’t like that bring in money, I don’t think that’s the way to operate, because if you get rid off that kind of negative thing that you are doing, you freeing up time and energy to do something new. Just as I couldn’t run two businesses, I had to let one go to make time and room for the other one to grow. And that’s the thing – it’s taking those steps and holding on tight when things are going bad, thinking “This is gonna work”. And if it doesn’t, then another thing is going to work. You just have to ride through those times which are scary and uncertain with determination, confidence and clarity, thinking that something good is going to happen.

So that’s my answer. There are no guarantees, but you have to go for it with as much assurance and confidence as you can. As I said, sometimes you have to hold on tight. It’s a journey, it’s up and down. It is all mountains and valleys, and you have to be ready for that.

BCM: Thanks a lot Karen
K: Thank you.