Is Your Workplace affecting your Productivity?

Productive Productivity Workplace Productivity

Does your workspace make you feel stressed or distracted?  Do you suspect that you could be more productive than you actually are?

If the answer to these two questions is a resounding “Yes”, then let me ask just one more question:    Is your workspace cluttered?

This may seem irrelevant, after all, plenty of people work in chaos.  However, researchers have found that physical clutter can negatively affect your mood, resilience and ability to work productively and efficiently.  It can become difficult to focus on just one thing when there are many things lying around competing for your attention.  You may even start to feel that things are spiralling out of your control.  There is always something else needing your attention in any business but if most of the attention-seeking things are spread around your office in plain sight, you will possibly begin to feel overwhelmed.  You might be tempted to multi-task although doing so will negatively impact on your productivity.

I guess I paint a bleak picture but never fear, it is relatively straightforward to break the cycle.

Control

First of all, dedicate a small amount of time each day to getting your work area under control.  Put away things you don’t need to work on today, or this week.  Go through everything and ruthlessly chuck out things you don’t need, file things you need to keep but don’t need on your desk.  Organise the things you do need in a way that makes sense for you and your business.   Once you have got things under control, keep them that way by having a daily or weekly tidy up to ensure things don’t get out of hand again.

De-Clutter

Don’t forget your electronic clutter. Set up files that make sense for your business and use them.  Keep your inbox under control.  Unsubscribe if you don’t read that email newsletter.  Delete things that don’t need retention (newsletters, Amazon offer emails, items you’ve answered but don’t need to keep).  File the things you do need to keep.  I have more advice about Inboxes in this blog if this is the area you are struggling with the most.

Lists and Notes

Use a To-Do List and don’t overload it.  I’ve written on this subject here and here and I do tend to bang on about this.  However, a long To-Do list is almost as distracting as a cluttered workspace.  A To-Do List,  marked up with the priorities for each task on the list,  can keep you organised, your work on track and help you to feel in control of your workload. You will be more productive as a result.

If you are a person who tends to write things on bits of paper as you go about your day, try using one notebook for this purpose and always have it with you.  This ensures that you don’t add to the clutter in your workspace by having Post-it notes, and scrappy bits of paper all over the place, competing for your attention.

Capturing routine information throughout the day without reacting to it straight away can also help you to feel more in control of your work.  If you allocate time at the end of the day to go through the things you have captured and put them into your diary or To-Do list as appropriate, you will feel much more in control of your workload.

Once your workspace is more organised your productivity should begin to increase and you should start to feel more in control of your workload too.

If you would like more help to organise your workspace to help you become more productive, get in touch for a chat.

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.

VAVA Voom: Value Added Virtual Assistance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Work Overload: An Increasing Problem

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do I have Work Overload?

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

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

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

What can you do to avoid work overload?

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

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

Get Enough Sleep.

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

Exercise

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

Relax your mind and body

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

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

Feed your health

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

In the workplace

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

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

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

Social Media: Are you missing a trick?

Social Media Tips Tricks consistent posting schedule

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

Front of mind.

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

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

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

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

Trust

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

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

social media blog chat communicate like share

Be Sociable

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

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

SEO

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

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

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

Consistency

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

tricks social media tricks

Tricks and Tips

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

8 Ways to Harness the Power of a Voice Recorder

Voice Recorders are useful for so much more than the traditional task of dictating letters, memos and reports. 

Here are eight ways to harness the power of the voice recorder in your business.  Doing so can save you time, and as we all know, time is money.

 Content Creation

If you have lots of ideas for content but all your ideas run away screaming at the sight of a blank screen or blank sheet of paper, then recording your content on a voice recorder can be a great way to get over that block.  Send the resulting recording to your Virtual Assistant.  They can turn it into a document that you can upload to your site with pride.  They will ensure the grammar and spelling are correct, source appropriate photos and create graphics to use with the post so that it looks polished and effective when you upload it to your site.

Send your VA the audio file from a video.  Great if you need a written version of your video for a handout. Very useful if you want to sub-title your video.  Brilliant for creating a blog post from your video content.  Re-using content in new ways is a wonderful way to increase reach by allowing your audience to consume content in the way they prefer.

Process Planning

Record all your ideas for innovations within your business and send the recording out to be transcribed.  Workflows, process documents, induction manuals and many other documents can be planned easily in this way.  Once you have recorded it all, your Virtual Assistant can transcribe it and, if necessary, organise the information into a logical sequence. The result is a bespoke document that fully reflects your business.

Business planning

If you suffer from Blank Page syndrome and just can’t think when faced with a computer screen, why not create your business plan using a voice recorder and have your transcriptionist organise your thoughts into a plan that will help you to keep your business on track.

GDPR

This will bring changes to your business and you will need a written document which outlines how you will handle things like access requests, requests to be forgotten and of course, the all important plan for how you will store, manage and protect the data which you hold.  Tell your voice recorder all about your plans, the methods you will employ, and the safeguards you will put in place… your transcriptionist can turn it into documentation.

Focus groups.

Never miss anything in your group again.  Record it all and have someone transcribe it.  Don’t forget to ask people to talk one at a time though. You may miss valuable content if you let people talk over each other.   I do have experience in transcribing focus groups and if this is something you would be interested in, then please contact me.

HR consultants.

Within HR, the advent of the smartphone voice recorder has transformed meetings.  So many attendees surreptitiously record potentially difficult meetings on their smartphones that some HR consultants choose to openly record these types of meetings on dedicated voice recorders in addition to having notes taken longhand.  This two-pronged approach can help to ensure people feel they have received a fair hearing.   There is little room to dispute what has been said and the participants can agree on whether the minutes or the verbatim transcribed recording should be used.

Using a dedicated voice recorder rather than a smartphone is recommended in this case because the recording is higher quality, will catch more of the discussion accurately and will be easy to download and send to your transcriptionist.  An excellent quality recording will also ensure greater accuracy in the transcription as everyone will be heard clearly.    I provide both minute taking and transcription services, and with a background in HR, have the knowledge and experience to ensure the meeting is recorded effectively and accurately.  Click here to learn more about my services.

Reminders.

If you are feeling overwhelmed with things to do, one option is to use your voice recorder to just list all the stuff you need to do.  You can just listen to it when you are planning your day.  A better idea is to send it to your VA for transcription.  Not only will they transcribe the information, but they may well be able to help you with some of the items on the list.  This will create more time for you to tackle the things on the list that only you can do.  Your To Do list will shorten instantly when your VA takes some of the routine tasks and admin items off your shoulders.

Authors and Researchers.

Whether you are writing fiction or non-fiction, a voice recorder can be your friend.  You can record ideas, chapters or even entire books if you choose, and send it all out to be transcribed.

If you are researching a subject it can be helpful to voice record ideas (quietly if you are in the library) from any sources you have consulted.  It’s also a very convenient way to keep track of your bibliography to ensure you don’t forget anything.  Just record each source on a single, dedicated audio file and send it out to your VA or transcription expert when you are ready.  They will transcribe it into your chosen layout as well, saving you endless hours messing about with the tab key and swearing a lot.

If your research involves interviewing people, you can use the voice recorder rather than taking notes, allowing you to fully concentrate on the person whom you are interviewing.  Your VA can then transcribe it all for you to review at your leisure.

If you are keen to try out the wonders of the voice recorder, keep your eye out for my next blog post, which will help you to choose a suitable recorder for your needs.