Running An Effective Meeting

Running An Effective Meeting

According to HR Grapevine, workplace meetings are causing anxiety to employees.  Direct Blinds carried out research which shows that just over 48% of UK employees feel anxious about meetings.  In addition, most of us have had that sinking feeling as we have realised that today is THAT meeting.  The one where everyone rambles on inconsequentially for hours.  The one that is used by certain staff to grandstand and by others to moan. The one-hour meeting that takes two hours.  The meeting that results in no action points.  The meeting from which you exit no wiser than you entered.

It doesn’t have to be this way though.  Meetings can, and should, be an effective use of time.  Here are some tips to make sure your meeting is not the one that your staff are dreading attending.

Purpose

Meetings should have a purpose beyond allowing the lazy to sleep and the malcontents to trumpet.  They don’t need to be called just because there is always a meeting on Thursday.  They should have a clear aim and a purpose and there should be a goal and a measurable outcome for each point on the agenda.  And yes, there should be an agenda.  And minutes so that everyone can recall what was said and who has agreed to action each task.  Ideally, the minutes should be taken by someone who is not participating in the meeting since it is not possible to present to the meeting whilst also writing notes.  It is worth asking someone with experience of the task to take minutes to ensure that all the key points are properly recorded.   If you do not have someone within your organisation who can carry out the task for you, there are freelance PA’s and VA’s, including myself, who can provide this service for you.  Contact me to find out more.

Suitable reasons for calling a meeting include:

Disseminate information to many people at once.

Review progress on a joint project

Plan tasks involving multiple teams

Consult staff or teams about an issue that will impact all of them.

Team building activities.

Information gathering.

But wait, before you call a meeting for information gathering purposes, is it necessary?  Do you really need to have a meeting or would it be more appropriate to gain the information you need via a phone call?  Could you request the information via email?  Would a quick face to face with one key member of each team get you the information you need?

You still need to get everyone together to discuss the issue?  Then call a meeting.

I really do need to hold a meeting. 

Great.  So you are going to hold a useful meeting that won’t waste time.  Key to achieving this is to invite only people who need to be there.  If someone only needs to provide a small piece of information, could they brief another attendee who can then bring up that point on their behalf?  This means only one person from that team needs to attend.

What about the person whose specialist knowledge is critical to one agenda item?  If they don’t need to sit through the entire meeting, can that item be discussed early in the meeting, allowing the person to leave at the coffee break?

Preparation

Please send around an agenda so people know what is going to be discussed.  Include supporting paperwork with the agenda.  In general, the more supporting paperwork you have, the earlier you should send out the agenda and meeting pack.   A good meeting requires well-prepared delegates. Sending the agenda and a forty page discussion document one hour before the meeting is setting yourself up for an unproductive meeting.

Timing

Please be clear about how long the meeting will take and then stick to that timing.  Many executives will be attending a number of meetings each day.  If your meeting over-runs, this will either impact subsequent meetings (in which case you will probably have an annoyed administrator on your case) or the individual will need to leave, possibly at a critical point in the discussion.

Don’t be tempted to allow “a bit of extra time in case things over-run”.  If there is time to fill, it will get filled, not usually efficiently.

Please stick to the agenda.  It is up to the chairperson to move the discussion along at the right speed to ensure all items are discussed.  If a discussion looks as though it is going to run and run, the chairperson should suggest that this is discussed in detail at another time by those who have the greatest involvement or scheduled for further discussion at a future meeting following further information gathering.

Purpose

At all times the Chairperson should be mindful of the aim of the meeting and ensure that all discussion contributes to that aim.  If the discussion veers off into another area, it should be brought back to the matter in hand.

Any Other Business

The “Any Other Business” section of the agenda can cause Chairperson’s hearts to sink.  This tends to be the point in the meeting where the chairperson needs to be particularly ruthless in controlling the meeting otherwise this section could end up longer than the main meeting.

Any Other Business is designed to cover items which arose in the time period between the agenda being sent out and the meeting happening.  It is NOT the place for grandstanding, raising grievances, frustrations or complaints, scoring points over other teams, or ambushing the meeting with an idea which you have already been told cannot be progressed in the hope that raising it in front of higher management will somehow allow you to get the idea agreed.

Addressing the meeting.

If you are presenting to the meeting, keep it short and to the point.  No grandstanding, waffling or blinding people with science or acronyms, please.  A short point, well presented will carry more authority than a lengthy and slightly waffly answer.  Your point will also be much easier to minute, allowing your pearls of wisdom to be properly recorded for posterity and allowing everyone who receives the minutes to clearly recall what your argument was and what actions they might need to take to assist you to move your project forward.  Speak as clearly and concisely as you can.  And if you don’t have anything useful to say… just keep quiet.  It is never necessary to speak for the sake of letting others hear your voice.

And on that note, I will end this post.

5 Spells to Streamline your Time Management

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Soon it will be Halloween.  Then it will be Bonfire Night.  Then we are on the countdown to Christmas.  There are costumes and candy to buy for Halloween, Fireworks to purchase, bonfire night parties to arrange, then the Christmas planning is upon us.  The thoughtful gifts, the stocking fillers, and creating a cake early enough to allow it to be fed an entire bottle of brandy without it turning to mush.  The latter is not only possible, but it is also delicious.   The list goes on and on.

Time, always at a premium, doesn’t stretch to accommodate all the extra tasks you need to complete at home or in the business.   We all sit down some nights and wish we had a magic wand that would allow us to stretch time so we could get more done in a day.   Most of us don’t have a magic wand but these time management tips can help you to make the most of the time you do have available.

Multi-Tasking: Please Don’t.

Although it is tempting to tackle several things at once to get things done quicker, your brain is not set up to work that way.  It works best if you allow it to concentrate on just one task or group of tasks.  By minimising your brain’s need to keep switching tasks, you feel more in control and your brain works more efficiently, allowing you to get more done.

Avoid Interruptions

Interrupting your work to read notifications breaks your train of thought.  Daniel Leviton, author of “The Organised Mind” calls the desire to read notifications and Emails “The Novelty Bias”.   It can take several minutes to recover focus following trivial interruptions and over a whole day, those tiny interruptions can add up to quite a bit of lost time.

If you struggle to ignore notifications there are apps that will block access to Social Media for set periods of time so that you won’t be tempted.  Or, do as I do, leave your phone downstairs when you are working upstairs.

Is it the right time?

If you set aside particular times of day to work on tasks this can really add to your productivity.  Working on complicated or creative tasks when you are feeling fresh will ensure they get done more quickly.  Most of us experience a post-lunch dip in energy and this can be a really good time to check Emails and do routine housekeeping tasks in the office.  Knowing your optimum time for creativity and making the most of this time is a great way to make the most of your time.

Planning:  It’s not just for Project Managers

Have a goal in mind for each week and create a plan for each day.  If you plan out your week and list the key tasks you will complete each day in order to achieve your end goal, this is a great way to ensure you are making progress and stay on track.  Each task on your list should move you nearer to the goal you have in mind, whether that is planning an office party or gaining more business.

Having an accountability partner can be helpful as well.  They can ensure you stay on target by challenging you to complete the tasks you have set yourself that week or month.  Choose someone who will have the confidence to give you a kick if you aren’t meeting the goals you set yourself.

Environment

Whilst some people undoubtedly work well in a messy environment, I’ve seldom met anyone who worked well in a disorganised one.  Those who work with messy desks always have a hidden method of organisation that is not apparent to the casual observer.  They can always lay hands on the thing they need, and that’s the key.  Nothing wastes time like a fruitless search for the pen you had a minute ago, the stapler you know you had last week, or that critical document that you didn’t file away.  The document is probably somewhere in the pile of documents in the corner of the office. Unless it is somewhere else of course.  If this is something you struggle with, you can read tips on how to alter your environment to aid improve both time management and productivity  here:

witch broomstick help admin help time management

Finally, if you are struggling to cast these spells effectively, why not call in an expert?

If you need some heavy duty spells cast over your admin, working with a VA might be the answer.

If you would like me to fly to your rescue, then you can contact me here.

5 Tips for Great Content

Content, Content-Creation, writing, blogging, blogger, content-marketing

Creativity Can’t be Coerced

It is important to understand when you are at your most creative.  For some people, this might be late at night, for others, first thing in the morning.  You will have your best chance of creating great content if you play to your strengths and write, or plan, at a time when you are feeling at your most creative.

I am sure some people can decide to sit down every third Tuesday between 10 am and 1pm, write for three hours and be very creative indeed.   But for others, inspiration cannot be coerced in that way and will come from interaction with people and ideas.  Ideas that resonate with you, challenge existing beliefs, or create an emotional reaction, these are the things which are likely to spark creativity.  Many ideas come whilst you are doing something else.  This is why I am seldom far from a notebook and pen.  Keeping a folder of content ideas can be helpful.  I keep a folder to which I add notes and ideas as they occur to me.  I find this useful for kick-starting the creative process when I am ready to write.

Begin in the Middle

Blank white paper and brand new Word documents can kill inspiration.  I start with an idea from my inspiration folder and run with it to see where it takes me.   Starting from a note, draft or idea fools my brain into thinking I’ve started already, so I don’t get that blank page paralysis.  It can be helpful to just start writing somewhere.  Have an idea where you are going of course, but there is no law that says you have to start at the very beginning.  This post formed the middle section of a post about something else entirely.   The trick is to just get your thoughts onto paper.  You can tidy them up later.  I’ve found that telling myself the document is a draft that I can tweak and tidy up reduces the pressure to create startlingly amazing content in one draft.

Don’t be a Butterfly

Commentators in the fields of both Psychology and Time Management tell us that concentrating on one task, or set of related tasks, is highly efficient.  Switching between different types of task breaks concentration.  Once concentration is lost it can take a while to get it back again.  We’ve all had that situation where we are in the midst of drafting the most impressive document ever and there is an interruption.  A colleague has a question.  The phone or doorbell rings.  We go back to the task and find we can’t remember what we were going to write next.

Setting aside a time to concentrate fully on content creation, without interruptions, is therefore worthwhile.  You will get more done and ultimately be able to create more content if you can minimise distractions during the time you are writing.

Getting all your thoughts out onto paper in one single session can be a great way to create pieces of related content.  The draft might be very rough at the end of your writing session but you can set aside time later to review and polish the content for publication.  It is easier to see the areas that need improvement if you leave the draft to sit for a few days without looking at it.  You bring a fresh eye to it and can see where the text can be improved. If your writing has accidentally gone off on a different track part way through, then you can remove that part and keep it as a draft to be incorporated into another piece of related content.  Often it is easier, and quicker, to write this second piece of content because you have already partly thought through your argument and know the direction you want to take it in.

Be Human.  Be You.

Writing is just speech in written form.  Just be you.  Make your content flow as though you are talking to the reader.  The more you write, the more your unique voice will make itself known in your writing.   If you find that difficult on paper or on the computer screen, you could try recording your content using your phone’s voice recorder app. Just chat away and then either transcribe it yourself, send the recording to your VA or use a specialist transcription company.  I offer transcription as part of my package of services so if this would be helpful to you, please get in touch .

Tell a Tale

People love a story.  If you can make a narrative flow then you will draw your reader into your world and allow them to learn more about you and your subject.  It can be a challenge to make a story out of everything, and some subjects may not lend themselves to this approach. However, at the very least there should be a progression in the argument which takes the reader on a journey and draws them in, making them want to know more about the subject matter.  A logical progression in a narrative makes the reader want to learn more.  In more factual content, breaking up the text into sections will increase readability.

There are some great content creators out there who have the knack of creating memorable content.  Often they are doing this by using their own unique voice in their content, or by telling stories in a way that is memorable and effective.  Whilst you don’t want to be copying others, you want to create your own voice, it can be helpful to look closely at the structure of content which you find attractive and examine the methods the author has used to draw in their audience.  This can help you to hone and improve your own work as well as work out how you can use your unique voice to create content that others will want to emulate.

Going Green on a Grand Scale

 Filing, environmental, paperless office

 Streamlining Filing Systems

Recently, an organisation engaged me to complete a project to manage the transfer of an entire department’s filing systems from hard to electronic copy format.  I love filing and organisation so I was in my element.

Security and confidentiality requirements were of primary importance.  Time scales were dictated by a move to a new location with extremely limited storage space.

It’s a massive task, but someone needs to do it

Following a review of departmental documentation, around 20% of the files were archived.

3500 live files were then individually reviewed and re-organised to meet strict criteria.  The move to electronic filing records presented challenges.  This was a huge change for the department and security was a critical consideration throughout the project process.

The files had to be taken apart and reorganised to ensure key documents could be easily located within the scanned file.  As you can imagine, this was the most time-consuming element of the project.  Since the files were all current, they had to be prepared in phases to ensure staff had access to the key records they were working on at all times.

The completed files were listed, packed and sealed before being transported to another site for scanning.  Careful planning and management of the workload meant this phase completed two weeks early.  I had planned this into the schedule to allow time to take care of any last minute issues.  However, the process ran smoothly with no difficulties encountered.

The system went live on the proposed date, without incident.  The administrative and filing processes were then reviewed and re-designed to ensure effective documentation flow throughout the department.

The hard copy files were securely destroyed off-site once all documentation was safely uploaded and checked.

Cost, Resource and Space Savings

The project resulted in cost savings in relation to specialist storage costs as well as enabling the team to move into a smaller workspace, as originally planned.  For the future, paper, stationery requirements and ink consumption will reduce significantly within the department.

If you have a backlog of filing, or an office organisation task, and have no idea how you will find time to get it all done, let’s talk.

4 Reasons to Outsource Your Data Input

data input tips typing copy-typingWe live in an increasingly connected world.  Information is king and a deluge of data arrives every time you pick up your smartphone, look at your computer, or turn on your television.  Businesses handle an increasingly large and diverse quantity of data on a daily basis.  To harness the power of the information you generally need some level of data input support to organise the raw data into a form which can be used to drive your business forward.

 1.   Time is Money

You can ask one of your team to do the data input.  You can even spread the task across the whole team.  However, this takes each team member away from their key business role.  Since time is money, this may delay completion of important, revenue producing tasks and affect your profit margins. Additionally, asking highly paid staff to carry out routine work can make the work very costly on a per hour basis.

2.    Accuracy

Accuracy is totally critical to ensuring your data is reliable and can be used confidently.  Data input tasks need to be completed by someone whose attention to detail and precision is absolutely top notch.   Incorrect data is more than just a nuisance, it can create major problems.  Incorrect contact details may mean your clients do not receive critical information.  Inaccurate costing information can lead to overspending on your projects.  Errors in metrics which you are relying upon to steer your business forward can have a massive impact on your business forecasting.  Business data needs to be reliable.   You don’t have time to double check work to ensure it is correct.

3.    Speed

Fast typing speeds are important, though not at the expense of accuracy.  Using a specialist who can provide both accuracy and speed makes sense.  Information produced will be reliable and able to be used straight away, saving the business money as well as time.

4.    Motivation and Productivity

You can ask your staff to do the data input alongside their main role.  However, frequent requests for staff to complete routine admin and data input when this is not part of their role can reduce staff morale.  Such requests can lead to resentment, lack of motivation and feelings of being undervalued.  At best this could lead to a reduction in productivity, at worst staff may vote with their feet, leaving you with a costly recruitment and onboarding campaign to manage.

For all of these reasons, outsourcing your data entry to an expert makes sound business sense.

What kinds of Data Input can be Outsourced?

Just about any bulk data input can be outsourced.  Contact information is frequently outsourced since it is very time-consuming to collate and keep up to date.  This is one reason why the input of business cards and contact information into Excel for upload into CRM or telemarketing systems is one of my popular services.

If you are considering outsourcing your next data input task, please get in touch with me and I’d be pleased to help.

10 Simple Tips for Proof Checking Success

proof checking success 10-simple-tips accuracy

Whether it is your business cards, website, flyers or blog, proof checking errors can give a poor impression of your business.

It is actually quite hard to proof check. A number of psychological experiments have been carried out which show that we tend to see what we expect to see. One well-known example is this one.

psychology proof checking failure optical illusion

This effect seems to be worse if you try to check something you created yourself. You will almost certainly read what you think is there because you know what you are trying to say. Your brain will compensate and skip over the error.  One way to reduce this effect is to let some time elapse before trying to proof the copy.

To ensure your business documentation always shows you and your company to the very best advantage, here are a few tips for checking your work more effectively

1.  A spell checker

This is a great starting point, but cannot be totally relied upon since it won’t take account of context. As a result, you can find yourself “Barley able to continue yourself at the thought of attending the concert”. 

2.  Grammarly

This is a free web based tool that will check all of your online work. It doesn’t work with offline tasks but is marvellous for blogs and websites. I have it installed and find its suggestions very helpful at times.

3.  Read Aloud

Reading it out loud as well as silently is a great way to check whether the words flow well.  You will also find ultra-long sentences as you will run out of breath part way through reading out your sentence.  Reading aloud also assures you that the text makes sense, is well phrased, and points haven’t been missed out.

4.  Print it Out

By all means, proof check on the screen first to identify glaring errors.  However, proof checking on a screen is quite difficult and it is easy to overlook mistakes. Since mistakes are much easier to locate on a hard copy document you will get a more accurate outcome if you proof check the hard copy document.

5.  Multiple Checks

Don’t try to find every proof checking mistake at once. Read the document once to find spelling errors. Then read the document again to search for grammatical errors. Read it a third time to find missing or additional spaces, and so on.

6.  Phone a Friend

If possible, ask someone to help you. Take turns reading the document out loud to each other whilst the other person follows the text to try and catch any proof checking errors. This method is brilliant for proofing numerical information because numbers seem to be easily transposed.

7.  It’s the small things that matter

Don’t overlook the little words. “Or” and “of” are often used in place of each other in error.

8.  Vary your Route

When checking tables, it can be easier to read down columns to check information, especially if you would normally read across the rows when using the data.  Some people also like to read the document backwards, particularly when looking for spelling errors since the sense of the information is disrupted and you are less likely to skip over something because your brain has “filled in the blanks”.

9.  It’s not just the words

Check your photos, illustrations and figures are the right way up, captioned correctly and any captions or numbers match the text.  Any numbered lists should be checked to ensure the numbers are sequential.  If you are using references and footnotes, ensure that everything is correctly cross-referenced, and accurately numbered.

10.  Fresh Eyes

Sometimes all that is needed to catch that last little error is a fresh pair of eyes. Because our brains are programmed to see what we expect to see, it can be very difficult to spot errors if you are too close to the project.  Someone who has had no input into the document may find proof checking errors which you have overlooked.

If you want to ensure your business documents are as accurate as possible and would like to avail yourself of my fresh eyes, please get in touch with me here.

Six Key Considerations when hiring an Assistant

Six Key Considerations when hiring an Assistant

help assistance virtual assistance assistant lap top transcription writing

So, you are thinking about hiring an assistant.  At least, I am guessing that is why you landed here on my blog.  But you find yourself a bit torn.  A bit unsure.  You know you need some help.  You know you have been spending way too long on your admin.  There have been those comments from family about never seeing you.  And you are always tired.  The admin is starting to feel like a total chore, and it’s getting in the way of your “real” work.  And yet.  You still aren’t sure.  It’s a surprisingly emotive thing, hiring an assistant, isn’t it?

Some common concerns are listed below, together with some ideas that may help you to decide if the time has come to invite an assistant into your business, and if so, how best to do that so that your business gains great value from your investment in an assistant.

1.  Letting Go

Do you feel you should do it all yourself? Or feel you are the only person that can do it right? Yet you still have that sneaky feeling that you do need some help?  If so, you are not alone.  To see if you are ready to take on an assistant, try looking at the areas where you do not feel you have the high-level expertise or the inclination for the task and consider whether you could outsource these areas first.  It is often easier to let go of tasks you dislike or find difficult.

For example, If you aren’t particularly organised, then managing your business documentation may well be a time-consuming chore that in the hands of an expert could take half the time.

2.  How do I know I can Trust my new Assistant?

Are you concerned about letting someone into the business?  Being able to let go of tasks does require trust, but you can build that trust with your assistant by being very clear about what you require of them.  I won’t lie to you.  Trust will take time to develop, but if you are clear about what you need to be done then your assistant will be able to provide the right result in the timescale requested.  I offer a test task to any clients who request it and always suggest something routine which won’t impact on the business itself but will save you some time.  Tasks such as data input of business cards to Excel, transcription, minute-taking or copy-typing are all popular starter or test tasks which can help you assess whether your potential assistant will be discreet, accurate, meet deadlines, and communicate with you effectively.

3.  What tasks can I Outsource?

Well, pretty much anything that needs doing which is not illegal or immoral.   One of the greatest advantages to using a freelance staff is the ability to access a wide range of specialist expertise on a per hour or per project basis.  There are assistants for most tasks, from general VA’s who tackle varied tasks, through to specialist VA’s who tackle areas as diverse as Pinterest, Medical Transcription, HR, Social Media, Marketing, Events and Website Builds.  Whatever you need, there is a VA for it.

4.  Surely a Freelance will be awfully expensive?

If your assistant charges out at less per hour than you do, then you will make money by handing over work to them.  Virtual Assistants vary in cost depending on experience and expertise but remember that your time is money, and every hour you spend on admin is an hour when you aren’t working with your clients.  And of course, there are none of the overheads such as tax, National Insurance, Pension, Holiday pay and so forth to stump up for.  When your VA tells you their hourly rate, that is all included.  There is very little admin involved in working with a VA as well.  Just an invoice at the agreed time, so no messy payroll issues to manage.

5.  How do I know if my assistant will be reliable?

A good Virtual Assistant will be reliable because their business depends on it. We are business owners too, and we understand the critical importance of reliability.  Nevertheless, it is prudent to ask around amongst your business contacts to find out which Virtual Assistants have proven reliable for them.  In addition, most Virtual Assistants will include a testimonial section on their website which will give you an idea not only of their reliability but also of the type of work they have done in the past and their skill set.

6.  How do I find an assistant I will be comfortable working with?  

I won’t lie to you.  It takes time for an assistant to fully integrate into your business and for the relationship to develop to the point where support is completely seamless.  If you have never had an assistant before, it may take you some time to adjust too.  But with clear communication between you, a good assistant will soon understand your way of working and provide the support you need.  Naturally, you will meet with the potential VA’s you are considering, either in person or via Skype/Facetime and during those discussions will gain a fuller understanding of their personality and whether you feel it will complement yours and they will be someone you would be comfortable working with.

Every assistant/business owner relationship is different and both you and your assistant will, if you work at it, create a way that works for you both which supports your business in the way you need.  A good assistant will adjust to how you want to work because we want to make things as easy as possible for you. After all, that’s why we do what we do.

If you feel you may be ready for an assistant, then please get in touch.  You can contact me via any of the methods listed here.

Holidays and Small Business CAN mix

Whilst the long school holidays and warm weather are wonderful, they can create some challenges for small business owners. Staff will want to take holiday.  You want to take holiday.  But the work doesn’t take holidays.  Juggling the needs of family and business can be more difficult than usual, but there are ways to make it work.

“I can’t take a holiday. It just isn’t possible,” cried the small business owner.

Wrong answer. You can’t come up with new ideas, innovative marketing or fresh goals to drive your business forward if you are exhausted. Small business owners tend to work considerably longer hours than the average employee and have a huge level of responsibility. Working extremely long hours over a sustained period can result in reduced productivity, ill health, strained family relationships and burnout. Taking a holiday is an investment in both you and your business. You will return from even a short break, reinvigorated, rested, and ready to hit the ground running.

To keep your business running smoothly whilst you are away, consider the following:

Let clients know ahead of time so that their expectations are managed.

Get your work as up to date as possible before you go. Hand anything that must be completed during your absence to a trusted staff member, or your Virtual Assistant. Or, if you are the only person who can complete the task, renegotiate the deadline with the client.

If you have staff, ensure they are clear on what work needs to be completed in your absence and what the deadlines are.

Have a digital holiday. Don’t check your phone and email constantly. Plan to check once a day at a set time. The evening is often a good time. If you have left staff running the business, let them know when you will be checking in, but tell them to contact you only in an emergency.

Plan Ahead and Work Around

If you can, plan ahead and get as much work done as possible ahead of the holiday period. This allows you to relax during your time off, knowing work is under control. It is a good idea to leave some gaps in the work diary to slot new work and incoming tasks into so you accommodate work without feeling overwhelmed.

Scheduling your social media in advance is a great time saver, ensuring you have an online presence even when you are on holiday.  If you blog or Vlog, perhaps create a couple of extra posts prior to the summer period.   If you don’t have time to create new content over the holiday period, you can use one you have in reserve.  Other options include asking someone to guest blog during the holiday season and asking your Virtual Assistant to research and write posts for you.

Plan your diary well ahead and block out time for both business and family.  Having a plan allows you to feel confident that you will be able to juggle it all successfully.  Putting family time in the diary as though it was a business event makes sure it happens.

Book meetings and appointments well in advance.  Others will be trying to juggle priorities too and may have limited diary slots available as a result.

Having a plan and knowing when things are going to happen can reduce stress and overwhelm.

You could consider a more flexible working pattern on the days you plan to both work and spend time with family.  Everyone is different but one option is working early and late, leaving the middle of the day to spend with family.

If you have staff, you could increase the amount of work you delegate during the summer.  Allowing team members to widen their knowledge of the business will make future delegation easier.

Outsource

If your staff are taking holiday you may need to hire in holiday cover to ensure work continues in their absence.  Local recruitment companies can provide staffing or you can use a freelance with expertise in the area you need to cover.

If you can’t get everything done in your small business using the Plan Ahead, Work Around Method, another option to consider is outsourcing some of the routine admin work to a freelance administrator so that you can spend more of your time on revenue building activities.  Whether you need someone to schedule your social media, update your CRM, or keep on top of the emails, a freelance administrator can take the strain over the summer and is particularly appropriate if you do not have premises as they can work on your tasks from their own home.

If you would like to discuss outsourcing admin tasks so you can spend more time with family this summer, or you are a local business needing on-site admin support, then please get in touch.

Is your Email list GDPR compliant?

Is your Email list GDPR compliant?

data security, GDPR, Data Protection

The General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) will come into force on 25 May 2018, replacing the current Data Protection Directive. It will bring significant changes to the way you handle data in your business. The legislation is very wide ranging and I can’t hope to cover all the areas that you might need to know about in one blog post. The area I am most often asked about is the impact of GDPR on information retention and on Email Marketing.

At its most basic level, the new legislation aims to ensure personal data is properly safeguarded, people’s privacy is protected, and we aren’t bombarded by unsolicited information. If you hold and manage personal data relating to EU citizens within your business, you will need to understand your responsibilities under the regulations. Even if your company is based outside the EU and UK, if you have contacts or clients there and you want to use their email address for marketing purposes, you must comply with the Regulations.

Accountability Principle

A key change will be the introduction of the Accountability Principle. This requires you to show HOW you comply with the principles by keeping a clear record of decisions taken about how each processing activity will be carried out.
Article Five of GDPR requires personal data to be:

• Processed lawfully, fairly and in a transparent manner.
• Collected for a specific purpose, that purpose to be made clear and explicit to all whose data you hold.
• No data to be further processed or used for other reasons for which you do not have, or have not sought, permission.
• You should hold only as much data as you need to complete the tasks for which you are holding the information.
• All data must be accurate and kept up to date at all times. Any inaccurate data found must be erased or rectified as soon as the inaccuracy is discovered. Also, if you have shared that data with someone else, you must inform them of the inaccuracy so they can alter their records also.
• Data should be kept only as long as is necessary for the processing purpose and must be held securely and protected against unauthorised or unlawful processing as well as against loss, destruction or damage.

Compliance

GDPR also requires that the Data Controller, which in a small business is usually the owner, takes responsibility for, and is able to demonstrate, compliance with the principles of the Regulations.
It is good practice to demonstrate compliance via a policy for Data Protection. If you already have such a policy which complies with the current Data Protection Act then updating it to comply with GDPR should be reasonably straightforward.
Without the ability to demonstrate that you comply with the legislation you could leave yourself open to criticism and potential enforcement action if you breach the rules. The costs of a breach under GDPR are much higher than under the Data Protection Act so it makes business sense to get this right.

Email Marketing

With respect to Email Marketing, the most important change is that silence, pre-ticked boxes and inactivity are not considered as consent to be marketed to. People must actively take steps to opt into your marketing. So no pre-ticked boxes on your Email Sign Up forms please.
As mentioned above, you must state very clearly the exact purpose for collecting the data and how you propose to use it. So, if you wish to add people to your Email list, you must tell them this and explain what they will receive in return, for example, a monthly or weekly newsletter.
Because you need explicit and verifiable permission to add someone to a marketing list, you can’t just add the details from all those business cards you got at that networking event to your Email list. You must ask the person for permission to add them. You can send one individual Email inviting them to join your list. This must be a single email, personally addressed, and cannot be sent via a mail marketing programme such as MailChimp.
Similarly, if you put out a bowl on your trade stand asking people to drop in their business cards, the bowl should have a notice clearly stating that people will be added to your mailing list if they provide their card. This allows them to choose whether to opt into your mailings. There is a problem here though, the new legislation will require you to provide traceable evidence of sign up to mailing lists. So you might find sign-up sheets or asking people to sign up via your website on a tablet, a better choice for growing your email list at trade shows.
Although we are mainly discussing Email marketing, if you want to collect phone numbers to call or send text messages or collect addresses for traditional mailings, you need to seek permission to use each type of data (eg: phone, SMS, mail) and provide the option for people to opt in or out of each separate method so they can choose the methods of contact they are most comfortable with. Provide an empty tick box for each option.
Since every bit of personal data you collect about a person is another bit of data you are responsible for (and must secure) it makes sense to only collect what you need and will use. Particularly as the penalty for breaching the regulations is a very hefty fine.

Consent and Email Marketing

It really is all about getting verifiable consent. One way to get this verifiable consent is to use a system such as MailChimp to build your list as it has a double opt in. People will not be added to your list until they have responded to a second email which asks them to confirm that they really did mean to sign up to your list. This double opt in information can be used to prove permission to use the data.
The new rules specify very clearly that there must be an unsubscribe button or method by which the person can arrange to be removed from the mailing list and that this MUST be very prominently displayed and easy to find. Hiding it, or making it difficult to locate, is not an option.
Individuals will also have the “right to be forgotten”, that is, they can request to have their data erased with no trace of the information left behind. If someone requests this then it must be done as soon as possible and no further marketing materials sent to them.
GDPR will also prohibit the sale or exchange of personal data and it will not be possible to use data collected for one purpose (such as Email newsletters) for another purpose.
Even if you have previously obtained permission to use people’s email address, you will need to seek renewed permission to use that address ahead of the new legislation.

Action Points

So what action do you need to take?

• Review any areas of your business where you request email addresses, whether that is pop up windows on your website or sign up forms. Check that all the pop ups and sign up forms are clear and specific and include all the ways in which you might be going to use the Email address so visitors are very clear about how you will use their data.

• Keep a record of the permissions you are sent so that you can be quite certain, and can prove, that you have permission to market to each individual.

• If you have an old list you must gain permission to use each address on it. To do that, you would need to individually email each person on the list and ask them whether they would like to join your mailing list. Do not use the Carbon Copy (CC) function in your Email system to send messages to several people at once. Doing so will allow data to be seen by everyone you are emailing and thus breach the regulations.
It is possible to send to multiple email addresses using the Blind Carbon Copy (BCC) Function because each individual will see only themselves as an addressee. However, don’t send to large numbers of addresses all at once in this way. You will get blacklisted as a spammer if you do.

If you want to find out more about how to comply with the new legislation and get your business ready for the change, the ICO provides some excellent checklists specifically aimed at small business owners. These are straightforward and clearly written, covering the various areas which will change when GDPR is brought into force and the ways in which you can prepare your business for the new legislation. These can be found at WWW.ICO.org.uk/for-organisations/business
Another great source of information is www.dpnetwork.org.uk which, together with the ICO website, keeps you up to date on the latest interpretations of the upcoming legislation.

You can also find videos about the impact of GDPR on the new JJB Office Services YouTube Channel.

Does all this make your brain hurt?  Are you wondering how you will find the time to make your business compliant?  Perhaps you need existing policies and procedures reviewed and updated but don’t have the time?  Well never fear, Jenni is here.  If you need a hand,  please get in touch with me here.

First Birthday Business Review

Happy Birthday to JJB Office Services

birthday business review, happy birthday, business birthday, first birthday, JJB Office Services Birthday

It hardly seems possible that it was only a year ago when JJB Office Services opened for business.  The year has flown by in a whirl of setting up processes, website writing, marketing, and most importantly, supporting some fabulous local businesses to achieve their goals.  Today seemed a good day to look back over the first year and conduct a business review.  As I look back on the year I am proud that I’ve come so far.  I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my first year in business.  So many firsts happened this year:

My first website, for which I wrote at least four sets of content before I was satisfied.   I am, after all, a perfectionist at heart.

First networking event.  That was rather nerve wracking and I sat in the car-park for almost an hour before I was able to steel myself to go in.  Of course, when I got in there, everyone was perfectly lovely.  That first event was quite a low key, relaxed event but the first time I attended a more formal event, at 4Networking, and had to do a two minute introduction, my poor dog had to listen to my pitch for three days until I was word perfect.  Networking was something I had been very nervous about when I set up the business and yet I have found I enjoy it immensely.  Since I’m quite nosey and I love people, I really enjoy hearing people’s business stories.  I always learn something new, sometimes something quite surprising, and always come away with a new perspective on something.

My first client of course. Every client I have is special and lovely,  and I enjoy working with them all.  I have a particular place in my heart for my first client though.

First self-assessment tax return. Which wasn’t actually as bad as people make it out to be.  I found it quite easy to complete.  Next year HMRC’s  “Making Tax Digital” will require me to use a cloud based accounting package so I’ve chosen QuickBooks Self-Employed as it produces a tax report which will hopefully meet HMRC’s requirements.

One of the best things about being a business owner is the scope for learning new skills.  I just love it.  I love the learning but I especially love using new skills to help my clients streamline their business processes.  It’s so rewarding to see people gaining more time to spend with their family or being able to return to leisure activities which they had dropped when they started their business due to lack of time.

I’ve loved working from home too.  It is not the first time I’ve done this and I’ve found I get lots more done without office distractions.  And of course, my clients benefit from that.  After all, when you are paying for your admin cover by the hour, you want as much work as possible to happen in that hour.  Being able to crack on and get your admin done really efficiently makes me happy, and seems to make my clients happy too, judging by the feedback I receive.

This year I’ve also worked on a challenging on-site project.   I love a good challenge and the project is currently on target to complete on time which I’m rather proud of.

I’ve met some great people and really enjoyed my first year in business.  I’m very much looking forward to my second year and helping more business owners to carve out some time for themselves.