Note Taking: Investigation, Grievance and Disciplinary

Note Taking; Grievance; Disciplinary; Investigation; Hearings; HR Support

When things go Wrong

No matter how careful, or how caring, you are, things can occasionally go awry in the workplace.  Issues arise which need to be investigated, people raise grievances which need to be heard and unfortunately, not everyone complies with the company rules, no matter how many times you ask them to sign the Staff Handbook.  If you find yourself in this unfortunate situation, it is necessary to deal with the investigation, grievance or disciplinary quickly and thoroughly, and to keep good records throughout the process.

In the case of investigations it is necessary to take witness statements and if the matter progresses to a disciplinary meeting these statements will be critical.  The disciplinary itself must be carried out in accordance with good practice.  You can read more about this here on the ACAS site where you can download a number of very useful documents.

Whenever something goes awry, accurate and effective note-taking and evidence recording forms a critical part of the resolution process.

Confidential and Discreet

It can feel quite personal when these things arise, particularly if the issue involves a breach of trust, or could impact negatively on the business you have spent so long building and nurturing.   It is certainly a challenging time for any business.  One thing you absolutely do not need is gossip or discussion of the issue within the workplace.  This will potentially create problems further down the line, allow the individual to raise issues relating to lack of confidentiality and of course, gossip can de-stabilise your team.  Issues must be dealt with rapidly but effectively.  It’s never good to rush these things and certainly you should never miss out a step, but everyone involved will be keen to get the matter resolved effectively so a timely progression through the steps is always the best approach.

Impartial and Experienced

Whether you are an employer or an HR Consultant, having an independent person to take the notes in disciplinary or grievance meetings can be hugely beneficial.  They will be totally impartial and will have no pre-existing knowledge of the company or team so will not have any bias or make any assumptions which could affect their note-taking.

In a small organisation it can be difficult to find someone who is both an experienced note taker, capable of taking the notes accurately, and is also unknown to the person involved.  In situations of this kind it is critically important that what happens in the room, stays in the room, no matter what the size of the organisation.  However, in smaller organisations there have been cases where the information left the room because the note taker was inexperienced and was unaware that they should not discuss the case they had just noted.

Trust

Often in situations of this kind feelings are running high.  The person involved will be upset. They may feel distrustful, angry or betrayed.  It’s very important that everyone in the room is able to be trusted by the individual involved and it can help if the person taking the notes is not from within the organisation.  It is clear the note taker will have no preconceived views about anyone or anything which is mentioned and this can help the individual to feel they can speak freely.

In this type of situation, explanations can become frantic, emotional and difficult to follow at times.  It can take a level of confidence and experience for a note-taker to ask the individual to stop, and to wait whilst they catch up, and then for that note taker to calmly read back the notes and ask whether all the key points have been included.  It also helps if your note taker has an HR background as it is easier for them to accurately pick out the important points from the irrelevant and note only the key issues.   Notes must be taken long-hand to enable them to be reviewed by all parties at the end of the meeting and, if appropriate, initialled to show agreement.

Sometimes being in a room with the people whom the individual feels had not listened previously, and being able to fully explain their concerns and issues, can be enough to allow the issue to be resolved.  And if there is a set of really good notes as an outcome of the meeting, the formality of this can be appreciated by the individual.  If matters cannot be resolved quickly and the next stage of the process is required, then the notes will be a critical part of the process at that stage.

Practical and Effective

When chairing the meeting, you need to feel confident that the notes will be full enough to rely upon throughout any stages that might follow, and  certain that they include all the relevant details (and none of the irrelevant ones).  Having someone with HR knowledge to take the notes can be invaluable for ensuring this.

Of course you can also record the meeting and in this case, the recording can be transcribed, allowing a full record of the proceedings to be made.  Even if you choose not to have the recording transcribed, it can useful  for cross-checking facts in the notes if that proves necessary at a later stage.

Minute-Taking-Service

For the HR Consultant, having a dedicated note taker rather than trying to multi-task can be a huge benefit.  It can be very difficult to chair the meeting, ask the right questions, and note the answers in meetings where feelings are running high and people may be shouting, crying or arguing.  This is particularly true in disciplinary hearings.  Trying to both take notes and consider the evidence and information being provided can be hugely challenging in some meetings.

Writing up the notes of meetings needs to be done very promptly following a meeting of this kind.  The individual and the company will both need a resolution to the situation quickly.  It can be a challenge for the HR Consultant to get everything written up in a timely way and often involves working late into the night.  I have returned notes with a 24 hour turnaround for cases in the past.  This ensures you have the information you need to make a decision quickly and accurately.  This can be particularly important if the person involved is suspended from work for a potential disciplinary offence.

Naturally the note-takers hourly rate is less than that of an HR Consultant so there are cost savings when you consider how long it can take to type up the notes.

If you are an HR Consultant or a small company and you are looking for support in this area of your business, you can contact me here for a no obligation chat. 

VAVA Voom: Value Added Virtual Assistance

Virtual Assistance, Virtual Assistant, Administration Support, Value Added Service

Something a client said recently really made me think.  Not that my clients don’t make me think regularly you understand, but mostly it’s about how to do things quickly and efficiently to save them time or how I can improve the way I provide my Virtual Assistance so that clients get even better value.

My client, let’s call her Sue, had a phone enquiry.  A few minutes into the call their enquirer asked what it was Sue actually did.  You see, they’d decided that they needed what Sue provided but hadn’t really been clear on the value that this would add to their business once they had engaged her services.

So, today’s post is not about what I do, but about the value Virtual Assistance can add to a business.  The value is more than the sum of the tasks after all.

As my strapline says; I create time for business.  I give you back the time you’ve lost trying to juggle multiple roles as a small business owner.  This is the single most valued outcome of working with me according to my client feedback.  A desire for a better work-life balance is often the reason people initially approach me for assistance.

Rescue your relationship.  Yes, that did happen.  Discretion forbids detailing it though.

Help you to see options to move forward with tasks that you are stuck with.

Suggest different ways to tackle tasks that will make them quicker and easier or will create a better outcome.

Organise tasks and even people when you don’t have time or energy to think about doing so.

Pick up the routine stuff that could get lost in the heat of battle.   The stuff that in a corporate environment you would just ask someone to help with….  Those “Can you just…?” and  “Would you be able to…..” type tasks that your colleague might pick up for you.

Give you a helping hand with the things that are taking up too much of your valuable time.

Make sure things that need to be remembered don’t get forgotten.

Ensure accuracy.  Whether that’s your documentation, appointments, blog posts or the notes of that disciplinary meeting.  Done right, done fast and done the way you like it.

Make your business look good.  A VA answering your emails and organising your diary gives a great impression of an organised and efficient business.

Contribute expertise on the administrative and time management aspects of any new business ideas and expansion plans you might have.

Virtual Assistance is about working in partnership with you, supporting you in achieving the business goals you are striving towards.    I actively look for ways to make your life easier, and implement them (with your permission of course). Sometimes that’s a big thing like suggesting a re-organisation of the inbox or creating some graphics or a video for your business, sometimes it’s a tiny thing, like just going into your InBox and tidying out the rubbish that you really won’t ever read.

I work with you.  If you tell me what you are trying to achieve, I’ll do my best to help you realise that.  I can’t know everything.  There will be areas I can’t cover (finance and cold calling being two that spring to mind) but in my chosen field of HR Support, I am, though I say it myself, pretty good at what I do.  If you were inclined to disbelieve me, I have the testimonials to show it.

If you would like to add this level of service and value to your business, then you can click here to find out what other people think about working with me and here to start the conversation.

Work Overload: An Increasing Problem

Work, Burnout, Overload, Overloaded, Business, Mental Health

Ahead of World Mental Health day which falls on 10th October this year, I want to raise an issue that is, I think, particularly important to small business owners:  Work Overload.

Work overload results when the demands of the job role exceed the limits of reasonable human endurance.  People are expected to, or try to do, too much, in too little time, with too few resources.  It’s characterized by a combination of factors including:

  • Pressure to work long hours
  • Heavy workloads which cannot reasonably be completed by a normal person within the hours allotted to the tasks.
  • Few breaks, little time off and few or no holidays.
  • Unrelenting, constant and highly pressured working pace.
  • Unrealistic expectations of what could be achieved with the available time and resources
  • Carrying out, or trying to carry out, more than one role at once.

There is a lot written about work overload within large corporate and public sector environments but all of the points above afflict small business owners too.  The pressures which lead to the overload are different but the results are the same.  And those results can be devastating.  Particularly for small business owners who in most cases cannot easily choose to walk away from the business and do something else.   This element of having no choice can make the effects of work overload feel even worse.

When work overload is persistent rather than seasonal or occasional, then our bodies can’t recover, rest and restore balance.  Every role has busy periods but if we know it will be followed by a slack period when we can recover, this makes it possible for us to keep going.  That feeling that the work will just keep coming at you constantly with no respite or let up is true overload.

Do I have Work Overload?

Work overload isn’t just about work quantity but also the type of tasks that you have to deal with.  A busy workload with very clearly defined tasks and boundaries is actually good for your mental wellbeing.  What is destructive to mental wellbeing is a chaotic workload.  Competing priorities, extra tasks with short deadlines, being unsure what the day will throw at you, and trying to do tasks for which you feel unqualified.  Working like this means you cannot plan your day effectively, cannot meet everyone’s expectations and never feel you’ve finished your work.

Technology also adds to the pressure.  Work messages ping onto your phone all evening when you are trying to relax.  Home becomes an extension of work, particularly for staff who work from home and home-based small business owners.  Many articles suggest shutting the door of the home office.  This only works if the phone is trapped in there being ignored.  And how many of us do that?

When work bleeds into our home life the work overload affects our family too.  Couples end up spending more time working than they do with their family.  There are constant pressures to be the perfect parent, and the perfect worker, with Social Media telling everyone they can have it all and it’s easy.  But it’s not is it?  Something has to give and that something is often the couple’s relationship with each other and with their children.

What can you do to avoid work overload?

date night, holding hands, relationshipsMake home life and health a priority

Ensure you do not neglect your social life and any artistic or cultural activities which you value.  Whether you like to go to Rock Concerts, read quietly in a corner, create Airfix models or work in your garden, make sure you find time each week for these activities.  Schedule them into the diary if you can and make sure that you don’t make excuses not to do them.  Don’t neglect Date Nights with your significant other.  It’s important to ensure your relationship remains healthy so you can support each other when you each need it.

Get Enough Sleep.

Make it a habit to always ensure you get adequate sleep.  This has a huge impact on health and wellbeing.  Views vary on what the ideal amount of sleep is, but 6-8 hours is good unless you really are one of those rare people who only need four hours.

Exercise

Just three hours a week spread throughout the week will have a positive effect.  Ideally include both aerobic and strength training but if you aren’t that athletic, even a simple daily walk will help.  And if you choose the walking option, try to look around you as you walk.  It’s easy to plod along, looking at the ground, pondering about work issues.  Instead look at the leaves, the trees, listen for the birds, watch dogs running in the park.  If you are in a built up area, look up at the architecture and sky, or at the plants in people’s gardens.  Concentrate on the air you are breathing, notice how the earth smells in the rain, how the sun feels, or how the cold air is so fresh in the winter.

Relax your mind and body

Meditation can be very helpful in reducing stress on a daily basis.  If you make it a habit for the start and end of the day this can have a really positive impact on stress reduction.   It can also be helpful to take a couple of minutes in the daytime if things are particularly fraught, and just breathe in, and out, slowly whilst thinking of a calm and quiet place.

Frequent three day weekends can be a great idea, particularly for small business owners who struggle to get away from the business for a longer holiday.  When you are feeling overworked it can feel stressful to go away for a longer holiday as you may feel worried about what you are going to get home to.  Long weekends are a great alternative.  Try to do something truly relaxing with your long weekend.  Something that fulfills you but is not goal driven.

Feed your health

Restrict caffeine and alcohol since they produce chemical stressors on the body which can make stress worse.  Ensure you are taking in enough potassium as this affects the adrenal glands which produce the hormones that govern our fight or flight and stress response.  Potassium is found in fruit and vegetables particularly bananas, oranges, raisins, potatoes, mushrooms, cooked broccoli, spinach and soy beans.

In the workplace

There are some steps you can take to control your workload so that it doesn’t feel so overwhelming. These include:

  • Setting aside blocks of time for work and for appointments, and putting this in the diary so you have a shape to your day and know when you are working and can plan tasks that will fit the time you have available.  As mentioned earlier, it can be useful to block out time for relaxation too… it gives a goal and an end point when things are fraught and is something to look forward to.
  • Discouraging people from just “dropping by”.  The latter can be a real problem for home-based workers as friends seem to think you will be able to just stop what you are doing and have coffee with them whenever it takes their fancy.
  • Learn how to say no really diplomatically.  Someone once told me that the epitome of diplomacy was the ability to tell someone to go to hell in such a way that the person really enjoyed the journey.    It is OK to say No.  No one ever died from being told No.
  • Leave your phone in another room whilst you are working, turn off the notifications or put it on silent.
  • Prioritise emails and correspondence.  Try to avoid the knee jerk response of “ooh, email… must answer now”.  Look at it dispassionately.  Do you really need to reply to that now?  Will it wait?
  • Break large tasks and projects into smaller bits and tackle them one at a time.  It’s easier and less overwhelming.  I’ve recently written blog posts about successful project planning here and here which you may find useful.
  • Learn to delegate.  No one can do everything.  I do lots of things myself but I have an absolutely lovely lady who does my accounts.  This was the first thing I ever outsourced because I knew that the time saved and the reduction in stress would be completely worth it.  If you aren’t sure what to delegate or how to do it, I wrote a blog post here.  However, in essence it recommends that you either automate or outsource the tasks you hate, are not good at, or those that take forever to complete.

And if the things you hate to do are admin related, you can get in touch with me here.  Let’s have a chat about the things that are causing you stress, eating into your time and stopping you from increasing your business revenue.

Social Media: Are you missing a trick?

Social Media Tips Tricks consistent posting schedule

Any half decent laxative advert will tell you that regularity is important for your health.  Regularity is also important for your business health too and the  health of your business can be maintained by ensuring your social media posts are regular.  Here are just a few of the many reasons why posting regular, good quality content can help your business to thrive.

Front of mind.

Front of mind is absolutely the best place to be as a business owner.  All marketing and networking activity is basically about achieving this aim.  In a highly connected world with a lot of noise, staying front of mind can be challenging and regularity is critically important to success.

It’s all about being the person or company that someone thinks about when they are ready to purchase.  Being where your clients are within the online world is important and then if you keep popping up with interesting content that they want to read and offers or advice that solves their problem, then when they are ready to purchase, you have a hope of being recalled to mind and contacted to see if your business can help.

Consistency and an attractive offer that solves a problem are the keys here.

People may think the business is closed, or not doing well, if you don’t post regularly.

Trust

Know, Like and Trust is critically important in business.  People buy from those they feel they have a connection with, share values with, and those they feel they can trust.  You earn that trust in real life by adding value, demonstrating that you know what you are talking about in your chosen field, helping people with problems and being present for people when they need your support or advice.

Letting people see your values, the things that are important to you, all of this makes your business human, and allows people to create a connection with you and see if you are likely to be the type of person they might want to learn to like and trust.  The type of business they think they might want to work with.

social media blog chat communicate like share

Be Sociable

It is SOCIAL media.  A place to be social.  Don’t just post but also interact.  Keep an eye on your posts and reply quickly and effectively to anything people post.  The way you address questions and complaints is critically important and replying to comments, keeping the chat going, is a great way to show the human side of your business, be social and build a rapport with people.  It’s not just about selling, or even solely about adding value, though value is important.   It is also about starting, and maintaining, the chat.  It may not always be chat about business related issues, but the person with whom you chat about dogs may recommend you to someone who needs your services because they feel they know you and can trust you.

Medical and religious reasons excepted, it’s quite rare, and a bit difficult, to just stop talking to people in real life for several days, weeks or months.  As a minimum you might say “Hello” to people in the street, thank the salesperson, answer the phone, or ask a question.  Why would you suddenly stop talking on Social Media?  Why would you stop the chat?  Chat is good.  Chat builds trust.

SEO

If you update your content regularly and it drives traffic back to your website then you are getting more eyes on your carefully created website.  A website  which tells people who you are, what you do, who you do it for, how well you do it, why you do it, and what makes you stand out from others in your sector.   They may have gone there to look at your latest blog post which you helpfully linked to on Social Media.  But they will hopefully wander around your site once they land there, because people are in fact incredibly nosy.

Social Media itself pretty much relies on the human love of being nosy.  We like to see what others are up to.  You can check out all sorts of people and places without anyone asking you “What are you staring at?”  If you take the opportunity to post regular content that drives people to the place where you want them to stand and stare, roam about and learn a bit more about you, how cool is that?

Because Social Media moves so quickly, posting regularly is the best way to get seen.  Regular posts have more hope of being seen and clicked upon.

Consistency

You want to be seen as someone who is reliable and consistent.   If you pick up and put down your social media, you don’t look consistent.  Or reliable.  And we all want reliable from our business partners.  If there are huge gaps in your social media posting history, people stop thinking about you, or your brand, and start wondering about the reason for the gap.  As I said, we are basically nosy and you don’t really want people speculating about unwelcome reasons for your lack of posts.

tricks social media tricks

Tricks and Tips

So, if you are not posting regularly, are you missing a trick?  Or are you already convinced of the need to do this but worried that you don’t have the time to spend on the task with everything else you need to do?  Well, you can schedule ahead and this can be massively helpful as you can write a lot of content in one go and schedule it to go out when you need it to.

There are a number of schedulers available, I like to use Hootsuite, which has a limited free service.  I also use Tweetdeck for Twitter, also free, and like to schedule direct to business pages on Facebook.  This is free and I have a blog post on how to do this if you aren’t sure.  There are also other schedulers including MeetEdgar, Buffer and Hubspot all of which are highly popular.

There is another really effective scheduler.  It’s not free but it really cuts down the time you need to spend on Social Media Scheduling.  A VA can schedule your content for you and, unlike the schedulers mentioned above, can also source photos, and create Canva graphics or simple Lumen5 videos for your business, saving you the task of doing it.

It just so happens that I am a VA.  But of course you know that.

And it just so happens that I offer this as a service.  You guessed that part though didn’t you?

You can contact me here if you would like to know more about this service, or any of my other regular, reliable and time saving services.

Alternatively, you can just roam around the site.  I promise not to ask you if you are staring at  me.

Planning a Successful Project: Five Great Tips

successful project project planning project support successful projects admin projects project support project tips

Planning a successful project involves managing a number of moving parts, ensuring that everything fits together to create a beautifully engineered whole which runs smoothly along to a well-managed conclusion.  These five tips will help you to ensure your next project does exactly that.

Have a breakdown

No, not a nervous breakdown.  A breakdown of the project.  Break the whole thing into component parts.  This will allow you to work out timings for each discrete section as well as identifying which parts are dependent on each other.  You can then start to look at the order in which you will tackle the elements of the project as well as who will be responsible for each area and which tasks are dependent on each other.

Knowing which parts are dependent on each other is critical to designing an effective and successful project plan which delivers maximum productivity with minimum delay.

Plan for Failures

By which I don’t mean plan to fail, but rather examine your project for weak points, problem areas and dependencies that might trip you up.  If you have examined the areas where you think there could be a problem and have contingency plans available to mitigate the risk of failures in these areas, you will feel more in control of your project.

Order, Order

Task sequencing and expected task duration are key to a well-run, successful project plan.  There is absolutely no point engaging the kitchen fitter for Tuesday 10th if the electrician isn’t due to finish the rewiring of the room until Thursday 12th and the plumber won’t finish the pipework until Friday 13th.

By constantly monitoring the project, and the order in which you need or want tasks to happen, you can also see clearly when things start to go off track and take corrective action to bring the project back onto track.  This might involve changing the order in which tasks are completed.  Perhaps prioritising a particular area of the project to ensure it completes to time and does not delay other parts of the project which are dependent upon its successful completion.

Communication

Keeping up to date with everything that is happening on every strand of the project is crucial to success.  Making sure you know if something is delayed, has hit a problem, or is on target to complete more quickly than expected.  Ensuing people have the information they need to solve any problems.  Putting people in touch with each other when their work has dependencies.  Negotiating day to day changes to the project plan to take account of issues arising whilst still ensuring you can deliver the full project to time and budget.

Choose the Right People

Engaging people with the right set of skills to complete tasks well, to time and budget, is a critical element of successful project control.  If you have to re-do an element of the project this will generally take three times as long as planned.  Poor work is done, discovered, undone and then re-done correctly.

Time is money and if you want a task carried out correctly and efficiently then outsourcing the work to an expert is one of the best investments you can make.  It will take them less time, it will be done correctly, and it will be right first time.

Being careful to engage the correct people for the job at the start of a project will help you to bring that project in on time and within budget.  An expert will have a very accurate idea of how long a task will take, what might go wrong, have a plan to control risk, and the skills and resources necessary to complete the task to a high standard.

successful project project support project planning project management

It just so happens that I am rather good at admin and organisational projects.  If you want to see how good, have a look at this blog, and read what others say about my project skills here.

If you do have an admin project you are looking to complete, I would love to chat to you so please do get in touch.  I can take on any size of project from Inboxes that are threatening to explode, through offices that need some organisation to make them work efficiently, all the way up to putting processes and procedures into place to support a business that is looking to scale up.

Schedule Directly To Facebook Business Page

How to schedule posts to your facebook business page; Facebook Scheduling; Social Media Tips

Did you know that you can schedule posts directly on your Facebook Business Page?  Facebook have, I think, made this feature a little less obvious recently, but it is still there and it’s a useful thing to know about.  It can be used in place of scheduling software, or in addition to it.  I tend to use it in addition to my regular scheduling software.  It’s great for scheduling things to pages you manage though doesn’t seem to be available on the main timeline, just on pages.

To start, go into Facebook to write your post as normal.

Add a photo by clicking on the photo/video button on the left below the coloured background choices.

Facebook Facebook Scheduling Social Media Scheduling Social Media Tips

Posts tend to perform better with photos than without them and posts with videos perform even better, though that’s a subject for another day.

Facebook now gives you quite a wide choice of photo options.  For a normal post, just choose the top option “Upload photos/Video”.

Facebook, Facebook Scheduling, Social Media Tips, Facebook Tips

Photos will be resized automatically to the correct size for Facebook.  This works better when Facebook shrinks your larger image.  Very small images will pixelate and look bad when Facebook sizes them up.    I am deliberately not giving actual photo sizes here because Facebook changes things regularly.  A quick Google search will tell you what the right size is this month.  I tend to use 800 x 800 which is the generic Social Media template size on Canva.

Social Media, Facebook Scheduling, Social Media Tips

Here you can see I’ve added a photo to my post.  This is one of the photos I created in Canva so it is 800 x 800 pixels.  At this point you are ready to post or to schedule your post.  Except, Facebook doesn’t appear to have an option to schedule does it?  You have this huge “Share Now” button and no evidence of a scheduling option anywhere at all.

However, if you go to the News Feed button you can see “Post options”.  Click the blue wording and you will get the option to Share.  The word Now has a down arrow next to it.   I’ve highlighted it in the photo below.

It does make it look as though if you click the word “Now” it will set off and share your post, but it doesn’t.  Click the down arrow next to “Now” and you will get a drop down that will give you the options to schedule, backdate or save as a draft.  It defaults to Now but you just click the one you want to use.

When you click on Schedule you will get this scheduling box on the screen.  Just choose your date using the drop down calendar and alter the time to suit your post.

Social Media, Social Media Scheduling Social Media tips

Click the nice blue “Schedule” button and your post will go off into the wings to wait quietly for its moment in the spotlight.

You can schedule quite a few posts using this method. I’ve done 25 at one sitting without a problem but it does seem to work only on pages, not on the main timeline.

I hope you found this helpful but if you still feel uncomfortable with scheduling to Facebook, or just don’t have the time or patience to post regularly, then please get in touch with me here and I’d be happy to help.

Successful Project Planning: Five Key Features

Project planning successful projects project support project support

Project Planning involves managing a number of interconnected elements, ensuring all the strands fit together into a seamless whole and result in the outcome you were intending.  Although it might seem complicated to manage the many elements of a project, if you keep these five things in mind you will be well on the way to a successful project that comes in on, or below, budget.  And as a Yorkshire Gal, bringing things in under budget is always my preferred option.

Flexibility

Have a plan, but don’t treat the plan as though it is a fixed thing.  Most plans tend not to survive contact with the enemy and the key to bringing in a project to time and budget is flexibility.  Treat your plan like a framework.  Move things about within it so that time and resources, including human resources, are used to best advantage.

Dealing with Roadblocks

If you come to a road block in your project planning it is worth taking some time to step away, think things through, and consider re-jigging the plan before you press on.  Sometimes you will decide that pressing on is the right thing to do, particularly if there is no way to get around the road block. However, before you decide to press on, are you sure there is no way around that road block?  An old boss of mine used to tell me, “If you come to a wall, walk along a bit.  You might find you can go around it, rather than forcing your way through it.”  Sometimes, brainstorming some ideas with your team, or just leaving the problem for a few hours, can result in an innovative solution coming to you which will allow you to go around rather than pushing on through and is often a better solution than the original one.

Wiggle Room

When planning a project of any kind, remember to take account of contingencies and build in some wiggle room for delays and problems.  Wiggle room allows you to deliver problem projects bang on target, and routine projects early.  And what client doesn’t love, and provide glowing testimonials about, companies who deliver well within the timescale?

Blast Off

Remember:  “Never launch into a project with aggressive randomness.  Always take time to examine the project parameters first.”  This is a direct quote from a tutor I studied with a good few years ago.  It made me laugh then and it makes me laugh now.

How many times have you had an idea and then set off to implement it, without examining what will be needed?  For example:  you get up one morning, look at the bathroom ceiling and decide it needs painting.  You rush off to the DIY shop and buy paint.  When you get home and go into the garage to get the painting tools you find five litres of white emulsion you forgot you had bought, a broken roller tray, brushes with clumped together bristles and a rather sad, bald looking roller.  So, you trot off to the DIY shop again.  You buy a roller sleeve but decide to save money by not buying the cage and handle because you already have that.  You get some brushes and the roller tray and return the white paint from that morning.  When you get home the roller doesn’t fit the handle and you have to go back to get a new handle after all.  One initial trip to the garage to check on stocks and equipment, and perhaps a decision to take the roller handle with you to the shop, would have saved petrol, time, frustration and money.

Cost Control

Cost control is always a critical part of project planning and it can spiral out of control if it’s not managed.  DIY projects tend to be particularly prone to costing way more than you expect and taking twice as long as you expected.  This is because things always go wrong when we do things which we are not experienced in, or qualified to carry out.

Sometimes, it is cheaper and easier to outsource tasks.  Often it takes less time for an experienced person to complete tasks.  They will have the ability to apply tips and tricks learned over a number of years.  I’m not that good at DIY projects.  I am, however, brilliant at administration projects with a lot of experience of project planning and a number of tips and tricks in my arsenal that can save my clients time.  Here you can read about just one of the projects I’ve successfully completed for clients.

If you have an admin project you are looking to complete and you want it to come in to time, and budget, why not get in touch with me.  I can take on projects of all sizes from getting individual inboxes under control to the creation of processes and procedures ready for a small business to be scaled.

Delegation:  The Rocket Fuel for your Business

Delegation

The Oxford Dictionary defines delegation as “entrusting of authority to a deputy”

In practice, this means breaking down responsibilities into discrete tasks and allocating those tasks to the most qualified person.  By delegating you ensure the task is done quickly, effectively and correctly.  Most importantly for the small business owner, delegating the tasks you aren’t good at, don’t like or take a long time to do will free your time to complete more of the revenue generating tasks that will move your business forward.

Delegation can be a worry and some people experience barriers to delegation which can feel difficult or even insurmountable.  However, the benefits for your business can be huge if you push through the discomfort and learn to delegate effectively.

Here we are discussing delegation of tasks to outsourced service providers rather than the problems of delegation within a large organisation.  They share some challenges but delegation to outsourced providers arguably has fewer problems because there are fewer, if any, organisational barriers in place.  The small business owner can choose from a range of outsourced providers and pick the one most suitable.  They are not constrained by the pool of talent offered by their department as they would be within a corporate setting.

The 7 most commonly experienced barriers are discussed below.

I like doing the task

Although you love doing it, do you do it quickly, effectively and well?  Can you complete the task in the same timeframe as an expert in that field?  If it is an enjoyable task but one which takes up a lot of your time, can you break down the task, remove and outsource the part that takes a long time, and keep the part of the process you really do enjoy?  This would save you some time, still allow you to gain enjoyment from the task.

I can do it better myself

If you really can, then don’t delegate that.  But if you can’t then it may be you fear the results of handing over the task to someone else in case they don’t do it quite how you would like it.

Getting over this is down to trust, training and communication.  Choose your service provider very carefully.  Be sure that you feel comfortable communicating openly with them about what you need.

Be very clear about what you want the outcome to be.  Communicate clearly about details, deadlines, layout, format etc.  If there is an area you have concerns about, ensure you are particularly clear about your expectations in that area and the reasons why this is important.  Be open to answering questions from your outsourced service provider so they can understand your needs and meet them first time.  A good service provider will welcome feedback as it allows them to complete the task quickly, accurately and effectively.

I can’t explain what I want

Oddly enough, this isn’t always the insurmountable issue that it might seem to be.  Because you are delegating to someone who has expertise in the area, they will also have experience of the problems and pitfalls of what you are trying to do.  This reduces the amount of explanation that is needed.  Take the problem to them.  See what solutions they suggest.   You may be surprised.

I’ve worked with people who have rung me up and said “Help.  I am drowning.  I don’t know what I need, but I know I need help.”  With a few carefully placed questions I’m able to identify a place to start that will make a difference quickly, make some suggestions for medium and long-term solutions we can work toward when time allows, and quickly get them from drowning in the deep end to swimming strongly toward the shallow end where they can sit quietly and catch their breath.

No one can do it the way I like it.

It is very rare that this is true.  It is almost certainly going to be possible to train someone to do things exactly the way you need them to be done.  Take McDonald’s as an example.  They train thousands of people to turn out the exact same burger, in the exact same timescale, cook it for the exact time, for all I know they add the exact same size piece of gherkin (which most people throw into the exact same bin).

Yes, if you like things done a certain way then you may need to spend a little more time training your outsourced service provider initially.  However, just think how brilliant it will be when you can delegate that task and your provider can turn out the equivalent of those burgers within your business day after day, week after week, same level of detail and just how you like it.  At less money per hour than you charge out at.  Meaning you save money every single time they do that task.  How cool would that be?

I have no time to spend on telling someone else how to do this.

See above.  The time invested in training will pay off later.  Also, of course, if you are delegating to an expert, they won’t need to be told how to do the task properly… and they might have some fresh ideas that will save you even more time, and money, as well as making your life simpler.

I don’t know who I can trust.

Ask for recommendations and check reviews and testimonials for the people you’ve had recommended to you.  Most, if not all, outsourced service providers will have testimonials on their website and LinkedIn profile.  Some will have reviews via Google My Business or Facebook. I am very proud of the testimonials I’ve gathered and they are all viewable here.

The testimonials, together with the rest of the website, will give you a great idea about the person, the business, their skill set, the things that drive them to excel and the tasks they have completed for others successfully.

Once you have a shortlist of people whom you think you could work effectively with, get in contact with them and arrange to meet for coffee and a chat.  Meet with several people so you can find the one that you will work most effectively with.  I am always really pleased when a potential client tells me they are looking at several possible VA’s so they can find just the right one.

I can’t afford it

Say you charge out at £75 an hour.  And you decide that you won’t outsource your admin because VA’s are charging out at £25 an hour on average and it’s just admin which you can do yourself.  So you spend on average 7 hours a week on your admin.  A whole day.  That’s £575 a week that you can’t bill for because you are busy doing admin.  You are only working on your paid tasks four days a week.  Or maybe you do your admin on a Sunday so it doesn’t interfere with your billing of work during the week and get grief off your family for doing admin at the weekend.

Even if your VA can’t do the work any faster than you could, delegating those 7 hours to her would cost you £175 for 7 hours work.  Admittedly you’d have one day a week where you billed only £400 a day and not the full £575.  But you would be free to bill for five days work every week and not four days.  Running at full capacity you could potentially make an extra £400 a week after you’ve paid your VA.  Assuming that you take a two week holiday every year, this means that over a full year you would be able to bill a whopping £20,000 extra a year. What could you do with that?  Pay for the two-week holiday?  Change your car every other year?  Private school fees for your children?

The question then becomes, can you afford not to delegate. 

To talk to me about the admin and organisational challenges you are facing in your business and discuss the ways I can support your business growth plans, please click here.

Holiday Planning for Small Business Owners

Holiday planning for small business owners

For the small business owner, the summer holidays can bring challenges.  It also brings with it an interesting dilemma:  do you or don’t you book a holiday. 

The sun is out and your thoughts turn to holiday planning.  You want to take the family away for a break.  You need to relax and unwind.  You are tired.  You’ve read all those articles about burnout and stress and the importance of a good work-life balance.   So, spurred on by your family, who are eager to see you for more than five minutes a day, you book the holiday.  Then the worrying starts.

How will you manage to find time to actually take the holiday.  And enjoy it without worrying when you do get there.  There is just so much still to do.

Planning ahead is the key to a relaxed and relaxing holiday.

holiday small business planning

I’ve booked my holiday

As soon as you have booked your holiday, work back from the date of your holiday and create a list of your commitments, tasks and deadlines.

Move meetings and renegotiate deadlines that fall within, or two days either side of your holiday.

Plan to meet project milestones early so that they are completed before you go on holiday and are not in the back of your mind, niggling at you, whilst you are on holiday. Or agree to move the milestones so they fall after you return from holiday if that is possible.

Let clients know about your holiday dates in plenty of time.  That way they will know when you will be unavailable.  You can discuss alternative deadlines for tasks and agree on a plan that will work for you both.

Schedule your marketing ahead of the holiday.  Write some extra blog posts or social media posts as you think of them during the year and keep them in reserve.  Bring them out and dust them off, tidy them up a little perhaps, and then schedule them to go out whilst you are sunning yourself on the beach.  This will keep your business front of mind with your clients.

Book your pet’s holidays too.  Book the pet sitter or kennels.  Arrange for a family member or neighbour to pop in to feed and check on caged animals if you aren’t sending them away on holiday to a pet care centre.

With one month to go before your Holiday

Write a list of things that still need to be done before the holiday.  Just list the things you have to complete, deadlines that must be met and the tasks that you have left to do that will impact on your paid work.  Leave the “nice to have” stuff for after your holiday.  For more information about harnessing the power of lists to plan your activities, go here.

If you haven’t already done it, schedule your marketing items so you aren’t trying to do that at the last minute.

Keep your diary clear for two days before and two days after your holiday.  This will feel strange but if a super urgent task comes in at the last minute it gives you wiggle room to deal with it without stress.   It also gives you time to pack and get organised for the holiday itself.

The two days after the holiday allows you to come back to work, deal with things that have come in during the holiday, clear down your inbox and get back into the swing of work in a measured manner.  Knowing you will have space to do that on your

return will mean you don’t spend the last three days of your holiday panicking about what you are going back to.

Plan the domestic things into the diary so they don’t end up being a mad rush the day before the holiday.  Fridge emptying. Suitcase packing.  Foreign currency purchase.  Find your passport.  Arrange a time to take the pets to the kennels.  Buy a new bikini and some sunscreen.  Get your prescriptions filled.

Just Before the Holiday.

Ask your VA to keep an eye on your inbox and social media, reply to any routine enquiries, and send a daily update of any items that need your urgent attention.

Finish your last minute tasks.  Use your two spare days if you need to but ideally try to keep that last spare day for actual holiday preparation.

Delegate the tasks you want your VA or your team to do in your absence.

If you have a team, check everyone knows what they are responsible for.  Do they all have the information they need to complete the tasks you have delegated to them?  Are they clear about deadlines that must be met, calls that are expected, and work which remains outstanding?

Set the out of office reply to your Email telling people you are away.  Explain who will answer emails in your absence, or, detail your return date.

Set an out of office message on your phone.

On Holiday

Yay.  You’ve done it.  You’ve got away.  Hopefully, you are feeling relaxed and calm as you step into the car to drive to Norfolk for that narrowboat trip.  Or you are feeling free as a bird as you fly off to sunny Spain.

One final suggestion.  A digital detox is always a good idea during a break.  Don’t check your email and social media constantly.  Plan to check once a day.  If you’ve left staff running your business, or your VA is keeping tabs on things, agree a time when they will email you an update so you don’t feel compelled to check every five minutes to see if it has arrived yet.

If it makes you feel more secure, agree on a method which a trusted staff member or your VA can use to contact you in an emergency.  I use WhatsApp with my clients if they are abroad and text them when they are in the UK.

Enjoy your holiday, secure in the knowledge that you have planned things so that the business will survive for a week without you.  Have fun.  Make memories.  Sleep a lot.  Eat and drink well.  Relax.  Don’t think about work.  It will be there waiting patiently for you on your return.  None the worse for your absence.  And when you do return you will feel relaxed.  Refreshed.  Productive.  Enthusiastic.

So, what are you waiting for?  Book that holiday.  You won’t regret it.

If you’d like to learn more about how a VA can support you before, during and after your holiday, please get in touch here.

Really Effective Email Management

email management, inbox management, email tips and techniques

Does your email inbox contain every email you have ever received?  Do you struggle with email volume and despair of finding a really effective strategy for managing your ever-growing Inbox?  

Have you started a system of folders to manage your Inbox and then given up in frustration because you can’t remember which file you put things into?  Can you actually find what you are looking for within 30 seconds of starting a search? Or do you spend hours combing through your Inbox looking for that email you were sure you had the other day?

If these scenarios resonate with you then these simple tips will help you to get your Inbox under control and keep it that way.

Unsubscribe from things you never read.  All emails should have an unsubscribe button on them.

Move the things that are informative, and you think you might want to read later, to a separate folder.  You can do this automatically in both Outlook and Gmail by setting up rules for things like company notices and reports from your analytics software.  You can then review the folder you send it to once a week and move anything you want to keep to the correct permanent folder.

Create folders that make sense to you and when your work has been completed on that email, file it in the correct folder right away.  It honestly does save time if you put things where they belong in the first place.

Have an “Action” folder into which you put all the items you need to deal with.  You can then go to that one folder once a day and deal with it all at once, moving the completed emails to their final location in your folder system. You do have to be very disciplined about getting into the habit of checking the folder daily as it can have an element of “out of sight, out of mind” about it.

Email management, email organisation, inbox management

Only review your email inbox at set times during the day.  Three times a day is absolutely fine.  If something is “hair on fire urgent”, the client will ring you up.

Use the Getting Things Done approach to guide your initial review.  If the email will take you less than 2 minutes to read and action, just do it there and then.   If it needs a more considered response, flag it or colour code it and deal with it at the time you have set aside for this task every day.  If the email opens up some sort of can of worms or needs a really detailed response, and will be time-consuming to deal with, perhaps taking 20 minutes or more, I usually add the task to my To Do list so that it becomes a task of its own.

Email management, email organisation, inbox management

Colour coding and stars are not just for the classroom.  You can colour code emails in both Outlook and Gmail to show the priority you have allocated to them during your initial review.  This allows you to deal with emails quickly and in the right order of priority when you do sit down to tackle them.

Using an agreed colour coding system is also a great way to work collaboratively with a shared inbox so that two people don’t end up answering the same email.

Email management, email organisation, inbox management

I like to do a bit of work on my emails after lunch if it fits with my schedule.  Most people have a dip in energy levels after lunch so a spot of routine email answering is a great use of that time.

If you get distracted by those notifications that ping up every time an email comes in, and you find you can’t ignore them, you can disable the notifications entirely or choose settings that work for you.

Email management, email organisation, inbox management

If you have tried these tips and are still struggling, why not outsource your Inbox management?  Whether you need support with routine emails, assistance with streamlining your systems, or a full-scale intervention to bring calm to a chaotic Inbox, there is help at hand.

To access advice and support, and regain control of your wayward Inbox, get in touch for a free consultation.