Thursday, 29 August 2013
It took me a while to come round to the idea of blogging - especially about food. I was afraid, at first, of falling into the many, now infamous, traits that food bloggers can succumb to. Classic examples spring to mind: the endless, agonized, strife to capture the perfect shot of that timeless Coq au Vin - so much so, that it ends up going cold. The constant Instagram shots of the grocery basket, emphasizing the exquisite shadow a potato is casting over an ever svelte and interesting carrot. Never before has supermarket veg been made to look so glamourous and alluring.
To be honest, it was all a bit much for me: I wrote blogging off as a superficial, self indulgent pursuit. But then something changed. In my last year of University, my three flatmates and I decided to make a communal cooking rota. We assigned each other a different day of the week on which to cook the evening meal for everyone in the house. The bar was set by our first meal of pancetta wrapped salmon, served with crushed minty potatoes. And, after that, it just kept on rising. Before we knew it, we were enjoying a seven day week of fine dining, and still spending less than we had done when we were cooking for ourselves.
As Monday’s halloumi and chorizo burgers gave way to Tuesday’s flash steak salad and Wednesday’s tarte tatin, I realised that this was something that needed documentation. I was unsatisfied by just telling people about our dinner time delicacies - I wanted it recorded, loud and proud, in writing. And so, to the wordpress blog I went, swallowing my pride, and joining the army of wordy, foodie fanatics. My blog, ‘Matesplates’, was born and every evening meal, recipe and the occasional restaurant excursion was recorded. Once the blogging started, it didn’t stop. I loved having my own online space to write, and it felt good when my followers and viewing numbers grew.
When I left University, I didn’t think twice about creating another food blog, and luckily, I’ve moved to a place where the foodie scene is exciting and diverse. My new blog, Pretty in Peckham, aims to show the best bits of SE15’s food scene. Whilst it’s true that Peckham’s gentrification has encouraged a wealth of great new eateries, my blog is also eager to show that there was, and still is, great food available from the authentic, African, Iranian and Afghani orientated market stalls and shops.
For a flavour of Peckham’s menu, I’ve chosen my top five foodie hits in the area:
Rye Lane Mangoes
It may sound extreme, but if you’ve never had the pleasure of sinking your teeth into an Alphonso mango, you haven’t lived yet. Don’t be fooled into thinking you’ve enjoyed life at it’s very best, until you’ve tasted the sweet, succulent, honey tasting flesh of these humble looking fruits. These golden nuggets of goodness are widely available on many a market stall on Rye Lane. There’s no point just buying one - grab a box and ride the highway to heaven. Rye Lane, SE15
The Begging Bowl
Probably the best Thai food in London, with warm, friendly service and chefs who really know what they’re doing. The restaurant doesn’t take bookings and is, unsurprisingly, always busy, so get there early for Thai street food delights. Try the raw marinated salmon salad, the Dorset crab topped beatle leaves and the hot and salty stir-fry pork belly. Wash down with a lemongrass Martini or a pineapple margarita and finish with a spice cooling rambutan granita. 168 Bellenden Road, SE15 4BW.
It may look unremarkable from the outside, but this bazaar-come-Persian-emporium contains a far reaching treasure trove of delectable produce. Crowd pleasers, such as Turkish delight and baklava hold their own, as well as more specified products such as pomegranate molasses and barberries. They even have their own recipe book, Persia in Peckham, which includes dishes such as Khoresht-e-Rivas (rhubarb stew) and for the brave, Caleh-pah-cheh (lamb’s head and feet). 28-30 Peckham High Street, SE15 5DT.
Dates from Khans
Dates are not the only thing worth buying here, but with such an extensive shop floor, it’s a good place to start. At £2.49 for a large box of sweet and sticky, delicious and nutritious dried fruit, you’d be hard pressed to find a better deal. Khan’s is also a great place to stock up your spice cupboard essentials. 135 Rye Lane, SE15 4ST.
Flock and Herd
Bellenden Road, aka ‘posh Peckham’, ticks all the boxes for signs of recent gentrification. A delicatessen? Check. A gastropub? Of course. What about a posh grocery store? You betcha. The best of the influx is probably Flock and Herd, a butchery selling fresh meat and Charlie Shaw’s highly acclaimed, award winning sausages. And, with a butcher by day and ballet dancer by night on the premises, this place has got personality too. 155 Bellenden Road, SE15 4DH.
To find out more about Esther Smith and her food blog, visit www.prettyinpeckham.wordpress.com.
Thursday, 22 August 2013
Company blogs have been around now for many years. Ten years ago, when most businesses still got much of their work through Yellow Pages, to have a blog for your company was something new. It was something different. Today however, you can go online and within seconds, you’ll be able to find even the smallest company with a regularly updated blog.
When my company, Hartley Botanic, started its articles back in May 2005, we managed to catch the tail end of the surge for companies expressing their opinions, offers and business information to their users. Looking back, we had just one blog a month, which in the days of the mid-noughties, was perfectly acceptable.
It didn’t take long to realise, looking at the traffic we received just by posting articles on ‘buying your first garden equipment’ and ‘what to grow in June’, that having a business blog not only got us the search traffic that we wanted, but also the money that we needed. We are quite thankful to the fact that from the beginning, we wrote blogs that were interesting, helpful and educational to our audience, helping us quickly build a readership that remains with us to this day.
It is interesting, when you read other company blogs, that many of them still only write about ‘special offers’ and ‘discounts’. Not only are these terms of little interest to most people, but they are also seldom found entered into search engines.
It didn’t take long however, before we realised that we had to add something a little bit more special to our articles. At first we thought about competitions, but we quickly realised that people flocked to our pages not for the aforementioned special offers, but for help, advice and knowledge.
Before long, we began to add special writers to our pages. Regionally reputed gardeners that were known throughout their districts, giving expert and accurate information to budding gardeners. As expected, this considerably improved our readership, as our blog and company were able to expand to considerable heights. From there we added more, until the point where we were able to offer celebrity gardeners and horticulturalists special bi-monthly places within our pages. Today we have:
Each and every one of our celebrity writers are able to add something different to their own sections of the blog. John Walker for example, writes regularly on renewable gardening, and Lia Leendertz writes about organic gardening, two areas that are not only popular today, but shall be even more popular tomorrow as the world becomes increasingly interested in health and the environment.
All in all, our blog has helped us grow into what we are as a company today, but challenges still lay ahead. Soon, it is expected that video blogs will become standard and from there, who knows.
Perhaps in ten years we shall have smell ‘o’ blogs. But I hope not.
For more information on Hartely Botanic and its award winning greenhouses and glasshouses, visit www.hartley-botanic.co.uk and for its blog, visit www.hartley-botanic.co.uk/gardening-tips.
Thursday, 15 August 2013
Louise Reynolds is an independent, UK-based agent who helps people buy holiday homes and investment property in Europe, more easily and safely than they can on their own. Here she shares some top tips on how potential holiday home owners or investors, can buy overseas property with confidence.
Language barriers are often seen as a hindrance when conducting a property transaction abroad, however it doesn’t need to be a show-stopper. With nifty tools like Google Translate around, the general gist of words can be worked out. Although it has to be said, it is never advisable to use free web tools such as this for important legal documents. It is best to get a competent bilingual lawyer, who is versed in the local laws, so that all formal legal contracts protect your interests.
Culture and Local Practices
There are often soft issues, like the in-country culture and communication which get overlooked. In Spain for example, it has not been unheard of in the past, to find a lawyer working for more than one person involved in a property transaction, so it is important to establish if there are any potential causes of conflict.
Raising Finance Overseas
Getting a mortgage in the UK can be challenging owing to tight underwriting criteria. Around the world things have tightened for borrowers. In Spain, banks are now far more cautious and buyers need to take care that they have sufficient personal funds, should a bank valuation of the property to be purchased, gets revised down at the last minute, so they are not left high and dry. In countries like Poland, investors are likely to be asked to provide more credit information e.g. credit reference reports, which would normally be done automatically by UK banks.
A significant difference between the UK purchasing process and many in Europe, is the need to go before a Notary (a specially licensed lawyer) to sign the preliminary and final contract or agreement, or provide Power of Attorney to someone to go on your behalf. In the UK contract exchange and completion can occur without the buyer having to be present, as long as all the necessary documentation has been properly signed and witnessed.
Property Buying Costs
Costs related to the purchasing process can also differ significantly from buying in the UK. Whilst stamp duty tends to be higher in the UK, the overall conveyancing costs are cheaper, generally speaking. So in the UK, property buying costs may represent up to 7% of the value of the property bought (including 3% stamp duty on properties up to £500,000), this could be between 5-12%, or more abroad.
What’s In A Finish?
Build finish standards differ. In Spain construction methods are not always the same as in the UK, so it is important to check the build and finish quality you are getting. Elsewhere in Poland or Bulgaria, apartments can be finished to “black standard”, which means the building is plastered, but may not be supplied with flooring, kitchen or bathroom. So check you are getting “white finish”, more like a “move-in finish” or you might end up with having to pay more than you have bargained for.
Getting on the property ladder overseas can be a lot easier than in the UK, with prices starting at £50,000 for studio apartments in cities, such as Istanbul, Turkey. This can help the “generation rent” or the BARBie trend that has been talked about (Buy Abroad Rent in Britain), as a viable alternative to buying in the UK for first-time buyers, who are increasingly being squeezed out of the market.
Understanding the idiosyncrasies of buying overseas property, or at least working with someone who does, can help ease the process, so that there are no unnecessary surprises.
Louise Reynolds is an independent, UK-based agent who helps people buy holiday homes and investment property in Europe, more easily and safely than they can on their own. As a Member of the AIPP, Property Venture, Louise’s company, has been vetted, approved and voluntarily commits to the Professional Code of Conduct. Visit www.property-venture.com.
Thursday, 8 August 2013
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with Blog, and the Word was Blog. From the ashes of this great phenomenon known as Blogging exploded thousands of human creatures called Bloggers, all scattering to find their place on the new virtual planet known as the Internet. One of these little creatures who managed to find a tiny realm somewhere in the vast corner of this world was me (alias Skye Spitfire) and so began my humble kingdom, Outside the Box!
Like all creations, Outside the Box has had its fair share of ups and downs, but it continues to grow, expanding its empire wherever possible. Often, as I sit back and look upon my domain, I enjoy reports from my messengers, which inform me how OTB has simultaneously entertained, intrigued, affronted and inspired; successfully written missions have invited applause or sometimes downright offended others; rival blogging kingdoms have launched attacks or sought an alliance. But whatever the outcome of each blog post, I am happy to say that every single one has been the result of my own thoughts, opinions and experiences, and it is with pleasure that I reminisce on that fateful day last summer when I decided to execute the idea of sharing my thoughts with the world wide web, all thanks to that humorously controversial dating website, Plenty of Fish.
For those oblivious to this site, Plenty of Fish is one of those dating websites used by millions of users throughout the world. You set up a profile, upload a picture and BAM! The man/woman of your dreams messages you, you exchange pleasantries, meet for coffee and, next thing you know, you’re married with kids and living happily ever after. Of course, in reality, after the ‘uploading-your-picture’ part, the rest is completely false for the majority of users. Having spent the best part of three years on and off this website (the first year fruitlessly searching for someone and being at the brunt of shameless users and their outrageous messages, the second year researching other people’s ‘horror’ stories, and the third subconsciously collecting information that helped me analyse the site) I thought it might be quite entertaining to write about what I had discovered.
But how to do it? Submit an article for a magazine? Who would take it? Write about it on my Facebook page? That would limit my audience. That’s when the idea of blogging came to me. I had always enjoyed writing. I had also always enjoyed voicing my opinions (much to the consternation of those around me); above all, I enjoyed having a readership, and what better way to gain readership than having access to millions of readers throughout the world? So I googled ‘blogging websites’, signed up with Wordpress, wrote some 2000 words entitled, ‘The Truth about Plenty of Fish’ and uploaded the file. The response it received was astounding: comments trickled in, some roaring with approval, others bleating with indignation; a steady stream of hits and followers appeared on a daily basis; the article was quoted in YouTube videos, review websites and various web forums. This blog post also kickstarted my career as a Freelance Writer, where I now work professionally as a Blogger, Content Writer, SEO Specialist, Ghostwriter and Artist Statement Writer. Who would have guessed that a personal review of a dating website could lead to such productive avenues?
As time went on, I followed it up with a diverse collection of blog posts, never limiting myself to one category, but writing about anything that took my interest or a particular experience I might have had. These included posts on the challenges society faces in conventional issues; a disparaging article concerning the sloppy performance of the England football team in 2012 (this post also went viral, with a hit count of 666 on its first day – an ominous number if ever there was one!). There was a post dedicated to my beloved Jack Russell’s untimely passing due to a malignant tumour; reviews of the website, Gumtree, and that remarkable, under-rated role-playing game, Suikoden, also followed. More recently, I wrote about the horrifying, tragic murder of the soldier in Woolwich, which resonated with a number of people and was shared globally on Facebook and Twitter.
Anything that strikes a chord with me is something I will write about and this is what I feel to be the very essence of my writing. I have never been formally trained or educated on how to write; there is merely a love of writing and a desire to share my thoughts with others, not through the bonus of financial gain or positive reviews, but through an aspiration to make myself heard. In an increasingly materialistic world, I am fortunate to be able to indulge in what drives me passionately, rather than profitably; I would urge anyone with a love of writing to do the same, for if you are passionate enough, driven enough and dedicated enough, you will find that writing is one empire you can expand beyond horizons you would never have dreamed of.
In professional terms, one aspect of writing that has required some research is SEO: Search Engine Optimization, which allows your article to be brought to the attention of search engines. Of course, it’s always important to remember how writing for personal pleasure should always take precedence for the ardent writer; it is imperative to frequently update your own personal blog if you embark on a professional voyage that doesn’t coincide with your own individual appetite. After all, you don’t want your whole view of writing to become dulled by writing for a toilet roll company, especially when getting hyped up about toilet rolls proves to be an impossible feat – even the most steadfast writer would soon wilt under having to write 15 SEO articles a month on ‘The Benefits of BogRolls Toilet Rolls’. Whether for yourself or for a company, below I have included the three SEO tips that I believe to be most effective and I hope they will assist you on your very own journey into the world of blogging – so put on your thinking crown, remember to always stay true to yourself and get writing!
1. Use Keywords! SEO articles rely heavily on keywords: for example, if someone is searching for ‘Fun events London’ be sure to include this phrase somewhere in the article, several times. Be careful not to write it out too many times though and make sure it flows with the writing; otherwise it will put the reader off!
2. Connect With The Reader! It may sound obvious, but this is crucial for SEO writing. The readers aren’t stupid; they will be able to tell if there is a mechanical feel to your writing – such as littering keywords all over the place without any substance. Write your article with the same energy as you would if you were sitting with a friend and talking to them over a cup of tea – the result is much more personal and, therefore, effective.
3. Break It Up! Break up your article into paragraphs, along with catchy sub-headings for each one. This makes it easier to read and gives it a more interesting structure. Readers will be engaged, not just via content, but through presentation.
Sarah Brownlee is a freelance journalist and blogger. To read Sarah's blog, visit Outside The Box.