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Regular Unfinished Business co-host Laura Kalbag’s started to work with her partner Aral Balkan on their Indie Phone project. She wanted to hear about Sue and mine experiences of working together for sixteen years, so she emailed her some questions. I hadn’t heard her answers until Laura read them on the show, but I think that made for interesting listening.

We didn’t get through all the questions and answers on the show, so here are her complete answers. I think they offer some insight into what it’s like working together at Stuff and Nonsense for as long as we have.

Is there anything you do in particular to help you work better together?

Take things light heartedly, enjoy the days. We’re lucky, remember that working like this gives us a wonderful life. Be happy.

Try not to take work decisions personally. When work, clients, deadlines etc., are stressing us out, gently remind ourselves it is not actually our fault.

Remember Andy hates to be told ‘what to do,’ much better to remind him ‘what needs to be done’ instead. We’re very different people it is important to keep this in mind. I’m logical, organised, calm and controlled. Andy’s creative, easily distracted, thinking of a million things at once, sparking thoughts all over the place. It’s important not to expect each other to think, or work the same way.

How has your working relationship changed since you’ve had the other Sue working with you? Does it make a difference having another person working with your business?

It does make a difference having Sue with us, in a good way. We’ve known Sue for years and we’re comfortable together. It would have been very difficult to have an unknown person in the house. I’m sure it was a little strange for Sue to be here at the beginning too.

There are practical things, like making sure the house is tidy, the bathroom clean. At the start Andy and I tried to be ‘office smart,’ but it didn’t last, now it’s joggers and ape slippers.

Andy loves having another opinion to someone to bounce ideas off. I know he really missed that when it was just us here, I don’t have a creative bone in my body. It’s nice to have another girly here, we ‘take the mickey’ out of Andy all day long, I don’t think he realised what he was letting himself in for. I don’t think it has made much a difference to our working relationship, Sue is just another person in the office with us. We’re just the same, perhaps we shouldn’t be?

Sometimes I feel like they are having all the fun, working on making really lovely sites and making people very happy. I sit and listen to the excited clients making wonderful comments on the work, and feel a bit like ‘the ugly sister,’ no-one’s been to reduced to tears by a contract. Still, if I wasn’t doing this part of the job, we would have to pay someone else, or Andy would have to do it and that would be a disaster!

How long have you worked together for? Did you both have different jobs before then? How does your current situation differ?

We’ve worked together since the start of Stuff and Nonsense. I’ve become more involved since Alex got older and left home. With Andy working so much and traveling a lot over the years, it was very important to me to have the time as a ‘mum.’ I loved it, nothing I could ever do for a job could give me the happiness or sense of fulfilment.

My previous jobs before Stuff and Nonsense have been medical. I’m a qualified dental nurse, I’ve worked in a private practice in Suffolk, Harley Street and was senior nurse in Guy’s Hospital Oral and Facial surgery dept. I’ve also been a medical secretary and worked in Clinical and Medical Audit. All very different from Stuff and Nonsense, but I think these experiences have given me the ability to organise, multi-task and work with people.

How does the division of labour work in your business? Do you have clear separate roles?

I do the paperwork side of the business, accounts, scheduling etc. I also make all Andy’s travel plans. When we host workshops, I do the planning, finding venues, ticket sales, hotels and generally making sure everything runs smoothly. I’m much more an organiser than a web person, I try to take care of all things that allows Andy to focus on his work.

Who gets the final say?

I depends on the issue, we don’t usually have a problem coming to an agreement. I’m sending you these answers rather than give them to Andy, I think that is your answer.

Do you work in the same room all the time?

Yes, in the office.

Do you keep the same schedule?

My work isn’t really a full time role, so I do I spend time out of the office. I do circuits two mornings a week. Andy does bugger all apart from work, so all house, garden work is down to me. When Andy’s working in the evenings, I sit with him in the office watching a film, listening to music or usually reminding him “‘build folder’ you moron!”

Does spending time together at work means you end up spending time apart outside of work?

Sounds a bit soft, but we actually just like each others company.

Anything else you’d like to share?

In the past when we started working together it didn’t always go so smoothly, Andy can be bloody awkward. I tried to arrange meetings to plan the week and he wouldn’t turn up, even when we were in the same house! I even resigned once, properly, in writing. Andy put it in the bin!

It certainly hasn’t always been easy, when Andy’s writing he can be hateful, I’ve said I will hunt down and kill the next person who asks him to write. I don’t think people really understand how much it takes to write a book, it’s all consuming.


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