Dream to Achieve: The Importance of Sleep

Lack of Sleep Sleep deprivation Sleep, Dream, Dreaming

As a society we push ourselves to work long hours, viewing this as a necessary evil in the pursuit of success.  Technology ensures we are constantly connected to our work, even when we are not physically at work.  Popular off-duty activities include fast moving sports and video games.  Even if we take up something calming like yoga, we often rush from yoga class to the supermarket, then home to deal with domestic responsibilities, negating the calmness brought about by the yoga.  With leisure time shrinking and the length of time we work, both per week and over our lifetime, lengthening is it any wonder that many people suffer from lack of sleep?

Many of my clients come to me complaining that they are too busy and have to work exceptionally long hours.  They are tired, stressed and beginning to feel resentful toward the business that they once loved because its demands are getting harder and harder to manage.  Often I hear them tell me they are skimping on sleep in order to keep on top of everything they need to do.

It is World Sleep Day on 15 March so what better time to investigate the impact of lack of sleep on our mental, physical and emotional wellbeing.

Long work hours result in not only tiredness but also a lack of attentiveness which in certain circumstances can have really dangerous outcomes.  Driving whilst tired is just as dangerous as driving whilst drunk;  our reactions are impaired and it is not unheard of for fatal accidents to result from people actually falling asleep at the wheel.  Those super long days driving between meetings are really not good for your health.

Distracted and Inefficient

Lack of sleep will make you distracted.  Concentration will be more difficult and you will possibly flit about from task to task, unable to quite finish anything.  The plethora of half done tasks will then start to annoy and upset you.  As your judgement and ability to plan is also impaired by lack of sleep, this may lead to poor decision making. You may also fail to realise that the time has come to stop doing a task because you are not achieving anything useful.

When we sleep we are not just laid in bed recharging ourselves like a battery.  Sleep is the time when our brain sorts out all the stuff we have done and learned that day and puts it into the right order to make sense of things.  If you don’t get enough sleep, that won’t happen and you will find you are struggling to learn.  In today’s fast paced world where continued learning is a critical skill in the workplace, lack of sleep can therefore cause real problems.

Memory Failures

Both long and short term memory are affected by lack of sleep.  We might notice that we have to try harder to take on board new information and keep it available in long term memory.  The impact on short term memory is more immediately obvious; we can’t recall things that happened two minutes ago.  This is the point where you go up and down stairs fourteen times before you finally manage to remember that you went up there to get your glasses.

(Not) Getting Things Done

Efficiency and productivity are reduced, so an all-nighter will usually make you less efficient and productive rather than more so.  Brain imaging studies have shown that your brain must work harder when you are sleep deprived, making it less efficient and as a result you are also less efficient.  Taking the time to have the right amount of sleep will actually mean you get more done rather than less.

Because your brain is tired it will rely on the well-worn pathways created by habits. This is fine if the habit is useful, effective and appropriate.  It’s not so good if the habit is unhealthy.

Relationships

Lack of sleep affects our relationships as well.  We have less empathy when we are sleep deprived and can’t read facial expressions as effectively.  This can lead to misunderstandings and conflicts can arise, particularly if both parties are tired.  This can have an impact on relationships as well.  For example, new parents who are being woken throughout the night by their infant may find this places a strain on the relationship.

The Solution

The good news is that just one or two good nights sleep can reverse most of the detrimental effects of sleep deprivation.  The occasional late night/early morning can be coped with but for long term health as well as optimum efficiency and productivity, a regular sleep pattern is recommended.  The type of sleep is more important than the number of hours you are physically laid in bed as well.  There are four sleep stages and Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep is the most important.  Research suggests that we need about two hours of REM sleep per night in order to feel alert the next day.  Whether you are a morning or evening person makes a difference as well.  If possible, early birds should retire early and get up early whilst night owls might sleep from 2am – 10am and feel wonderful on waking.

If you have too much work and not enough sleep, why not outsource some of your admin so you can sleep in peace, knowing you don’t need to worry about your admin backlog.  Click Here to see the services I offer and  Click Here if you’d like to have a chat.

Business Processes: The Blueprint for Success

Business Processes

At the beginning of a new year our thoughts tend to turn toward making improvements in our business which will increase its size and revenue.  Often when a business grows rapidly, information about tasks and processes are held entirely in someone’s head.  If they leave the company this can leave a knowledge gap that can be difficult to fill.  New staff come in and are not sure what the business processes and procedures are and this can lead to problems with motivation, accuracy and speed of learning.  Even if your staffing is relatively stable, people get sick or go on holiday, leaving someone to temporarily carry out their tasks.

As a business grows, written business processes to govern how tasks are carried out, by whom and within what timescale will become increasingly necessary to ensure a consistent quality outcome.  Written processes also give a benchmark against which performance can be measured and a hand over plan when staff move on or change roles.

steps, steps to improve, steps to increase

The first step when documenting a process or task is to break the process down into steps.  Identify who is responsible for each step in the process, what the outcome looks like at each stage and what order tasks should be completed in order to arrive at a consistently high quality outcome using the minimum effort and resources necessary.  Look at the stages of the process and identify any areas where tasks are handed between people. Ensure that these areas are particularly clearly documented and state who is responsible for each area of the outcome.  Add any milestones or targets required for timely completion.

checklist, GDPR checklists

List everything that you think could go wrong.  If appropriate, ask another person if they can see any areas where a failure might occur.

Write it all down but then put it away for a day or two.  When you go back to read it again, try to follow the steps.  Would you add new steps?  Do you understand what you wrote?  Could you express the task more clearly?  Would a diagram, screen shot or better explanation help?  What would you clarify?

business procesesses project planning project management

Ask someone you trust to follow the process as  you have written it.  Can they follow it easily?  Do they understand it clearly or do you explain some elements more clearly?  How do they think it could be improved to make the outcome happen faster or more efficiently?  What input can they give which will help the overall process to move smoothly?

business processes project planning project management

Provide links to all supporting information.  This might be a “How To” guide for a task that forms part of the whole, a manual that governs company process, legislative rules, or a related instruction that is already in place.

Include the locations of any files or forms that must be used.  If your documentation changes infrequently, example forms are fine to include.  However, if you can store the form on-line and publish a link in your process document this will make your documentation more future proof.  If the form is updated, your manual will remain applicable.

Contact details for all the teams involved in the process are also critical.  Using a link to the company contact list is helpful here.  Again, it future proofs your documents, reducing the number of amendments required.

If you must use jargon or acronyms, please explain it in a footnote.  It is particularly important to avoid these in induction manuals since your new team member will think they’ve landed in outer space without knowing the language.

Before a process is released into the world it should ideally be tested to identify any missing steps or incorrect information.   If you can, ask a representative of all the teams involved to look at the process to make sure it will work at every step in the process.

All business processes are live documents and should be subject to regular review, particularly when there have been major changes in the organisational structure.

An outsider can often view business processes more clearly than those who are within the organisation.  They come in with a fresh eye and new questions that you might not have thought of.  It can be a challenge to “see the wood for the trees” when you are so close to the action.  A new perspective can also help clarify priorities for change where there seem to be a lot of issues to resolve at once.  If this is an area you are struggling with, then do get in touch.  I have experience in setting up and improving processes and would be glad to help.

Are YOU Outsourcing these five tasks?

Outsourcing Virtual Assistant VA Admin Support

Following on from my post about the intangible value that outsourcing to a VA can bring to your business I thought it would be helpful to discuss some of the specific value-added tasks a VA can complete for you.  If you missed the first blog, you can read it here.

A VA is the “Can you just…” person for your business.  We deal with the things that don’t need your expertise.  The routine admin tasks that take time.  The day to day support tasks.  The last minute research and so much more.

Most of us have a large amount of very varied experience in a range of areas and you’d be surprised what we can help you with. It is our transferable skills that make us effective.   The detail of the task can be different for each client but the benefits are the same; a better return on investment for your precious and limited time.

The work I do is very varied but there are five key tasks that I carry out for almost all my clients.  Unsurprisingly, these are tasks that are time consuming but do not directly contribute to income generation.

Diary and Meeting Management

Ensuring you are where you should be, in plenty of time. Managing the often time-consuming back and forth involved in setting up meetings between very busy people.  Ensuring best use of time by laying out diaries in a way that ensures enough time allocated for client work.  Booking meetings into the diary in a way that makes best use of your limited time.

In-Box Management

Managing your Emails and flagging up the important items.  Dealing with the routine rubbish. Highlighting interesting opportunities that might align with your brand.  Politely responding to approaches that you aren’t ready to consider yet but might want to look at in the future.  Corralling newsletters into a separate area to read later and keeping things tidy so emails can be found when needed.

Social Media

Social media and marketing is a necessity for a small business and outsourcing it is easy.   I provide support with the more time consuming elements of this.  Writing content.  Sourcing articles to share, creating graphics and making videos from blog posts so content can be reused effectively.  Scheduling posts based on an agreed content schedule.  Researching for blog posts.  Help and support with marketing tasks and ideas.

Data Input

This is a popular service.  I can type up most documents you might need but data input is much more than that.  I can input into popular CRM systems, Excel, and any bespoke software that you are using for any purpose.   If you need information added to a system, I can do that for you.  Quickly, accurately and effectively. Data input can be time consuming, particularly if you aren’t a touch typist so outsourcing this can save you a lot of time.

My most popular ad hoc service is input of business cards into CRM systems or Excel.  I often perform this one for new clients so they can get a feel for how accurate and responsive I am.  It’s a good one to choose if you’ve never worked with someone virtually before as it gives a good feel for how the process works and how responsive the service can be.

General Admin Tasks

Returning calls and emails, correspondence, stuffing envelopes, chasing up missing information, mailing out documents, tidying offices, filing and generally getting stuff under control when it’s gotten out of control.    Just to show you how bespoke outsourcing can get, one client has me handle all the vouchers that go through their business.  Another uses me only for proof checking.

Although my specialism is HR support, I work with a number of businesses who need a variety of general tasks carried out.   If you are ready to make more money and have more time to spend with your family, you can get in touch with me here for a chat.

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.

7 Steps to Better Email

Email Email Tips Help with Email

For many of us, the Email is our “Go To” method of business communication.  It is easy, quick and you don’t have to worry about disturbing the recipient with an ill-timed phone call.  The recipient can read it when they are ready.

But, are you using Email to best effect? Here are a few quick tips to help you craft a better Email, and make the most of this useful tool.

A clear layout

A clear layout with paragraphs and bullet points as needed will make your Email easier to read.  Easier to read means it is more likely to get read thoroughly.  Reading it thoroughly means the required actions are more likely to be carried out.

question. why, what, where, when, how

Who needs a copy?

Don’t copy in everyone you can think of, just in case they are interested. They probably aren’t.  People get lots of Emails and if you get a reputation for sending an Email every time your cat sneezes, your Emails will be the ones that people don’t open.  A quick rule of thumb is only to send to people on a “Need to Know” basis.

 Why are you Emailing me?

When people open an Email they need to know, very quickly, why you sent it to them, what action they need to take, and how soon that action should be completed.  A good Email will make all of this as clear as possible as early as possible.  It is best practice to put action addressees in the main Email address box and information addressees in the Carbon Copy (CC) box if at all possible.

Reply all.

For the love of all that is furry and cute, please don’t do this unless you absolutely have to. It might seem like a quick way to tell everyone you agree with them, but it becomes a tangled mass of replies.  At some point, someone will think they are replying to a single person in confidence, say something inappropriate or ill-advised, and find they’ve just told everyone about that.  Reply All is notorious for the many ways in which it can backfire on you.  It has brought down entire Email systems, caused friendships to end and been cited in Tribunal hearings as evidence.  Always check that you are replying only to the person you think you are replying to.

If you are Blind Carbon Copied, and you reply all, you will expose your presence as an addressee.  Depending on the circumstances, this could be embarrassing or escalate a situation.

In some Email systems, you can disable Reply All.  For the sake of harmony in the workplace, this can be a good plan if it is feasible.

books, library, learning, training, readingBigger than Ben Hur.

If there is a long Email chain, look to see if your question has already been answered.  Asking it again doesn’t look very professional and adds to the volume of messages without adding value.

War and Peace 

Emails should be concise and to the point.  Use an appropriate level of detail and consider whether all the information is essential.  Weeding out unnecessary information results in a better Email.

 Same But Different

Do you get lots of very similar Email enquiries into your business?   Perhaps you get lots of people asking if you are open on Saturdays, requesting a price list, or needing to confirm bookings.  Rather than spending lots of time answering these similar Emails individually, why not create some template Emails.  In most cases, you will be able to send the Email just as it is written, and if it doesn’t quite fit, you can tweak it to make it more appropriate.  It can be a great way to save a bit of time without compromising on customer service.  Get in touch with me here if you would like to find out more about how I can help you with template emails and Inbox management services.