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Helpful Hints & Tips

Advice from Joshua Ross Grocott


Here you can find helpful posts from Joshua Ross Grocott, covering all of his areas of interest and recounting much of his hard-won expertise. If there is anything that you would specifically like to see acknowledged or explained, please contact him here.

By J Grocott, Jun 3 2016 03:35AM

Let me be clear from the outset: I want us to remain inside the EU and I don’t want to be misunderstood on this point.

I like having the option to migrate freely to any of the 27 other countries (and counting), knowing that I’d be free to enjoy their benefits systems and healthcare (with a European Health Insurance Card which, bearing in mind that our own NHS is ranked number 15 in Europe by the WHO and being further reduced in stature the closer we move to Brexit, seems like a very good deal). I want to stay in the EU indefinitely.

I like the idea that I might be offered a job on the other side of the continent and will not have to go through all the bureaucratic rigmarole associated with accepting it, which I would find anywhere else in the world in the same situation. I also like being able to flounce across the borders of all EU countries at will, just by merit of possessing a British Passport, staying as long as I like wherever I like; without having to worry about overstaying my visa-sanctioned welcome.

To illustrate my point, I’d like to describe my current circumstances; having been offered a fantastic chance to study in South Korea, and having booked a five-day stopover in China along the way, there are a few pertinent points that I've recently encountered that you might want to consider before voting to leave the EU...

South Korea has extended an open invitation to people from the UK, in that there is no requirement to apply for a Visa if your stay is for less than 90 days and you aren’t going to work there. This is great. It’s fantastic. It’s awesome. It’s also not common knowledge. I’d never have known about it at all, if I hadn’t applied for the Summer School Programme at PNU in Busan. It's why I've had to apply for a postal vote to declare my intention to stay in the EU.

My point here is that it’s difficult to find out where you can go without a Visa, when you’re going outside of the EU. This type of freedom to travel is something I’ve always taken for granted, having taken most of my holidays within Europe, so Visas are something of an afterthought for me when booking travels. Since most of us put off the bigger trips (the ones that take us further afield) until later in life, probably because they are usually much more expensive, it is worth noting that our close-to-home holidays may become equally exorbitant once we’re outside the EU – because they can charge us whatever they want in Visa fees, even for the shortest stays.

This brings me on to China – a place that I visited last year, and a place I’m taking a five day layover in before I get to Korea. When you’re going as far away as Asia, it makes sense to take some time and explore the places you’re passing through. In my case, I decided to take five days in Shanghai.

It turns out that the last time I visited China in April/May 2015, I didn’t have to pay extra for my single-entry 30-day Visa – as I was part of a tour operated by Wendy Woo. When I booked my stopover this time with STA, I assumed I’d be similarly covered – having been advised that China operated a similar policy to Korea by Essex Abroad at my university.

It was only after I’d made all the arrangements that my travel agent told me that my stay extended beyond the normal 72 hour transit Visa I might be entitled to, somewhat less than the 90 days I’d anticipated, and that I would have to apply for a Visa or change my booking (with the proviso that I had less than half an hour before my entire booking would be lost until the next working day, right before the bank holiday).

When I used the portal carried on the STA website, which my STA agent advised me to consult, I was told that I would need to stump-up another £222 for a “single entry Visa”. This is not true, as you can get a multiple entry Visa for the same price as a single entry one – single/group entry seems to have been discontinued at the beginning of 2016 – and though you pay the price expecting an expedited service (using the documents you’ve already secured through STA, I had erroneously assumed), you are really paying a premium for a service that is provided directly by the Chinese Embassy for less and required to repeat steps that you wouldn’t have to when applying direct.

Having paid the extra already – only finding out that I’d paid it to provide more information to an intermediary than I would have needed to to the source, but confident that I was saving myself some labour after uploading all of the relevant documents (instead of printing and posting) to thevisamachine website – I posted my passport, a passport sized photo, and my completed/printed application form (which was completed using the online facility on the Chinese Embassy website itself, incidentally) by the securest form of post available. When the post office official asked me the value, I told them it would cost me around £3000 if it got lost – they replied that the top option was £500, so they were going to put £500 on their system. Thank you post office.

The next day I got an email from “Dave” (no other details, except from the generic company email) stating that my passport and forms had been received. I then received another email from “Dave” stating that I needed to send my hotel/flight booking confirmations, documents that I had already uploaded on thevisamachine website during application and which were not included in the itinerary of documents I needed to post, without a direct dial/email address from the service agent. Good old “Dave”.

So I email the requested items across – this is a rush job, after all, since my application for the exchange program was a late one (it was only opened up to the likes of me as a deadline extension) – but hear nothing back from thevisamachine after I do. I check my online tracking system the next day and see that my order is still, apparently, “awaiting paperwork” 24 hours after I already sent it across for what is (in my understanding, at least) now the second time.

That’s when I got really annoyed. I started looking up advice about Visa applications for China from the UK on the internet – something I did very rapidly the first time round, as STA had given me only 30 minutes to decide if I wanted to secure my booking (or set the last two hours of negotiation aflame and start again from scratch), which had only seemed to confirm that I would need a Visa if staying longer than 72 hours in China – this time I found the advice on the website, sixth in the search engine ranking under the paid ads, which stated the following:

“If you hold a British Citizen passport and are transiting by air through Beijing Capital International airport, Shanghai (Pudong and Hongqiao), Chengdu, Guangzhou, Chongqing, Dalian,Shenyang or Kunming, and travelling on to a third country, you can enter China visa-free under a 72-hour visa waiver. You must remain in the city municipality (or within Guangdong province in the case of Guangzhou) and have evidence of your onward journey.”

This seemed to confirm what I’d been told at first, but a little more reading led me to the following:

“If you’re transiting through ports in Shanghai, Zhejiang Province or Jiangsu Province, and travelling on to a third country within 144 hours, you can now also enter China visa-free. You must be staying in Shanghai municipality, Zhejiang Province or Jiangsu Province, and have evidence of your onward journey to a third country within 144 hours of arrival.

These visa-exemptions are for transit only – you can’t use them to enter China with return flights from the UK.”

Incidentally; you don’t currently need a Visa to enter Hong Kong or Macao from the UK (according to the website), and Hong Kong was the other port I would be passing through on my journey. Since I would not be leaving Shanghai municipality, and I was traveling on to another country (South Korea), I seemed to qualify for this 144 hour visa-free period. I was not given this information by either the STA of thevisamachine at any point during either application, however, despite answering questions in each instance that indicated this might be the case. I then went on to explore the FAQs on the About Shanghai General Station of Immigration Inspection of PRC website:

I concede it might be possible neither STA nor thevisamachine were aware of this development (which came into place on the 30th of January 2016), as who knows how well publicised the change was. If this is the case, then my research will potentially have contributed significantly to their business models – assuming they use the learnings wisely. If we vote to leave the EU, everyone in the UK might suddenly find ourselves vulnerable to equally complicated and malleable barriers when trying to go to France for a day or long weekend.

Any existing agreements we have may be instantly nullified upon withdrawal, and there will be nothing lined up to replace them. It might be just as hard for us to spend a couple of weeks a couple of hundred miles away, as it is to spend a couple of years a couple of thousand miles away. I think we should be making it easier for us to go where we want, and not harder. I believe we should be expanding our freedoms and not restricting them. I want to be a citizen of the world, and not of our tiny part of it alone.

On the issue of The University of Essex remaining in the NUS, I can’t really comment – I only heard about the referendum after it was too late to vote, as not a single email was sent to my university account about either side of the debate or my need to vote on it. Nice work SU; on this basic communication failure alone, my instinct would be to say that leaving things in your hands alone would be akin to leaving the UK in the hands of our terrible Tory government.

I like being able to get discounts in shops across the UK, and I like having a larger union to go to if the local delegates don’t cut the mustard – much the same as I like having the European Court of Human Rights, when the UK legal system screws things up royally. Yes the NUS is not perfect, but you have to be in it to make a positive change – just like Europe, really.

By guest, May 2 2016 08:00AM

I've spent untold hours writing social media posts for other people and companies online; posts that funnel enquirers to landing pages, posts that attract attention to websites with relevant and trusted advice, posts that publicise PR worthy moments to the local and national press. Now I'm writing some posts that are relevant to me, my interests and my talents, so please don't expect too much...

Here are my top ten tips for managing your own online presence - they apply equally to business owners, marketing professionals, public organisations and private individuals alike - and they should hopefully help us all get ahead on the world wide web:

1. Search yourself

This isn’t just about finding out who you are and what you want from life, though this is a big part of it, but also about knowing where your name appears online and what is being said about you (as well as what you’ve said yourself). You should know what you’ve posted to social media, what comments or reviews other people have made public about you or your business, and know where your name (or your brand) appears in various Google searches.

2. Record your findings

When you search for your name or your brand online, make sure you record where it appears in a spreadsheet – as well as the link, date of publication, author/owner of the content and a note about the context involved – dividing posts that are about you from posts that are about others who share your name. Searching/recording instances of your name or brand appearing online will help you understand how others might perceive you, whether you are applying for a job or building your business, and you should always be aware if you need differentiate yourself from the subjects of a negative story.

3. Identify your USPs

If you find out that another person/company shares your name or has similarities with your brand, then take steps to ensure your online material is easily differentiated with theirs. Think about what makes you unique, and draw attention to this whenever possible. You might not be the only Jane / John Smith, but there will be something you do that all the others don’t: this is your Unique Selling Point, and it should be the focus of your online profiles.

4. Understand your audience

If your friends only want to see horrific images of your last hangover-inducing escapades on social media, then keep posting them (by all means); but think about whether your friends might be your only audience members throughout the rest of your life, then consider adding extra privacy settings that ensure no one else can see anything which might easily be misconstrued down the line.

5. Take negative feedback offline

When you’re commenting on behalf of your business, you need to be especially careful with your posts. Never deliberately alienate your customers; always strive to take complaints offline, or to a private messaging service, and aim to leave a message that shows willing to appease wherever possible (without admitting liability, especially if a serious legal issue is involved). Don’t just ignore trolls, but do have a form response that acknowledges their comment – explain that any issues raised will be investigated thoroughly, and that you will be happy to discuss your findings privately through designated points of contact.

6. Own your profiles

If there is a profile for you online that you do not control, take ownership of it. This could mean notifying Google that you own the business listed on their Google Places page, and verifying it in the required way. It could also mean auditing the various other people / organisations that share your name, ensuring you have sufficiently differentiated yourself from the others and tailored your content to match your skills / business provision.

7. Own your triumphs and your mistakes

If you do something right, take credit for it: always ask people who give you positive feedback if you can attribute their comments accordingly – this could be a pleased customer or an impressed colleague / peer – because their praise belongs to you, even if it’s unsolicited, and you need to own it whenever you can. If you do something wrong, then you need to try to put it right: if you can find a way of turning negative feedback into a positive result, then this can be just as rewarding as getting it right first time – just make sure you learn from the complaint in your future dealings and incorporate safeguards into your processes if required.

8. Encourage sharing

When you create something great, ask your contacts to share it – assuming you aren’t bound by an NDA (non-disclosure agreement) and that the sharing of a thing will not reduce its worth. If you’ve created something great but are bound by an NDA, then ask for testimonials from your clients. If you’ve created something great and it’s a piece of art then let people know where they can view it in its entirety, or get a copy of their own, and encourage them to share this information. Remember that images and other rich-media are more shareable than text, so create/include them whenever you can.

9. Serve your customers

Adopting a good customer service ethic will serve you well in almost every personal and professional capacity you could encounter, unless (of course) you are or become a politician. Acknowledge everyone that engages your services individually, keep them apprised of the status of their query/order (using automation if you have a high customer-turnover), and follow-up with customer feedback surveys whenever you are able to after your transactions are completed.

10. Use what you learn

Create a CRM (Customer Relationship Database) to help you keep up-to-date with your relevant customer/business/stakeholder contacts, and refresh it periodically. Knowing which of your contacts might require your services, especially if your services span numerous industries, is vital if you want to perpetuate your success in business. Make your records as detailed as possible, but stagger your information gathering over time: aim to get names/ emails/ addresses/ phone numbers/ primary interests first, as well as consent to use these details for marketing purposes (you’re more likely to get to consent if you don’t sell to third parties and make this fact very clear at point-of-capture), then gather more details with subsequent efforts. Monitor everything you do and record this data continuously, to help inform all of your future marketing efforts.

Want some advice that’s more relevant to you? Get in touch now and I’ll see what I can do.

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