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.

Eight Key Time Management Tips

time management tips; eight key tips for time management

Many business owners will have spent the latter part of 2017 pondering on the changes and improvements they would like to make in their businesses during 2018. 

The ending of one year and the start of another makes us consider new beginnings.  We create new plans, make new year resolutions and set out with good intentions to do things like go to the gym every week, eat more vegetables, meditate daily, stop biting our nails, and the biggie, improve our time management.  Achieving more in less time is the goal.  These eight great time management tips will help you achieve that goal.

Plan

A plan goes a long way toward the achievement of more in less time.  Yes, it takes time to plan things.  But it takes up less time than the alternative; flapping about like a wet hen, being reactive rather than proactive and not being quite sure whether the task you are engaged in will actually move you toward your overall goal.

Set time limits on tasks

It is very helpful to set a time limit on tasks and to stick to them.  If you start noting time limits next to the tasks that are on your To Do list, you can easily see whether you’ve allowed enough time to complete everything.  If you can’t complete all the tasks then move the least important tasks to another day.  Aim for a realistic number of tasks, and realistic timings, on your list.  You will find you feel more in control of your time management if you are completing tasks regularly.

Prioritise your tasks

The golden rule of prioritising tasks is to ask yourself “Is this task the very best use of my time right now? “

Urgent and important tasks should be done first.

Less urgent but important tasks get done next.

Less important tasks which are urgent come third.

Non-urgent and less important tasks get done last or noted and moved to another day.

Set Deadlines

I don’t just mean external deadlines either.  It is useful to set yourself deadlines for tasks because if you don’t then there is no feeling of urgency, and the task just gets moved down the list and never gets tackled.  This is another reason why setting time limits on tasks is a good idea.

Goals and Outcomes

All tasks should contribute to a larger goal or outcome, moving you nearer to achieving it.  If the task does not do this, or you are unsure which goal the task applies to, then it is worth examining whether or not the task really does need to be done at the current time. If you feel it is a goal for the future then note it down in a central location so that you can easily find it.  I will be talking more about this in future blog posts.

Review

Regularly review your plan, to do list and progress.  Your plan is a road map to your destination.  It is tempting to look at your plan and see the things you have not yet done.  However, it is important to take the time to look at the things that you DID achieve and celebrate that progress.   I learned this one the hard way I must admit, and it is only recently that I have started to look back at my list for the week and really see the things I’ve done rather than the things that have not been done.  Celebrating the successes makes you realise that you have achieved more than you thought.

Don’t book tasks back to back

Remember to leave time between tasks to have a break.  A break can make you more productive.  Those few minutes between tasks are really valuable and a key part of your time management strategy.  Your mind needs time to switch between tasks anyway, so you may as well have a cup of tea, chat with a colleague, look out the window, or empty the washing machine, whilst your brain is performing the switch.  As I have a dog, I let her out in the garden every couple of hours and will sometimes go out onto the lawn or sit on the step with my coffee for a couple of minutes. A few deep breaths of Yorkshire air allow me to go back to my work refreshed and ready to tackle the next task.

Delegate

Never overlook the important place which delegation can play in time management.  If you delegate a task either partially or completely, you’ve saved yourself time instantly.  Ideal tasks to delegate include routine admin, tasks you really dislike and tasks you aren’t that good at.  You will instantly see an increase in the amount of time you have available to spend on revenue building, strategy and planning.  If you delegate to someone whose hourly rate is less than your own, such as a VA, you will also gain a monetary advantage since the work will cost less than it would if you did it yourself.  To find out more about how I could help you to free up more time in your day, please get in touch here.

I hope that these tips will be helpful for you as you plan your business tasks for the new year.  But remember, it takes a while to learn a new habit properly.  Something simple, such a remembering to drink more water, might take about 21 days to become fully embedded in your life.  However, complex habits which involve a need to override years of conditioning and routine can take longer to master.

It can be tempting to try to change lots of things at once, particularly at the start of a new year.  However, this can be confusing and may lead to failure and frustration.  It is much better to choose one of these tips, the one that resonates the most with you and which you really think you can get to grips with, and concentrate on that one change.  If you can really embed the change into your daily routine before choosing the second change to tackle then you are likely to be more successful.

2017 Review of the Year

Review, 2017, blogging, video, Virtual Assistant, Harrogate

Feels Like The First Time

2017 was the year that JJB Office Services turned one year old and there have been a lot of firsts this year.
First recorded video in June, and more recent, and considerably more nerve-wracking…. My first ever Facebook Live.
I also did my first presentation to a professional audience. I’m not a confident public speaker but I was reasonably happy with my performance and the content was well received. So much so that I’ll be creating a series of blog posts on the subject in the new year at the suggestion of a couple of the audience members.

Although I’ve been blogging about my leisure interests for a number of years I started blogging for business for the first time in 2017 which somehow felt very different.

The top five performing blog posts for 2017 were:

Organisation is at the Heart of Productivity

Is your Email GDPR Compliant?

Running an Effective Meeting

5 Tips for Great Content

Read more in Less Time

By far and away the most popular video was the first one I ever recorded, on GDPR and Email Marketing, which you can watch here:

Computer Love

My tech necessities for 2017 were my transcription software and MS Office. It is tempting to take the Office Suite of products for granted and just talk about shiny new tech. However, without MS Office my job would be literally impossible.

The tech that I’ve really been able to have fun with was Canva (https://www.canva.com) for graphics and photo collages, and Lumen5 for cool videos (https://www.lumen5.com). If you haven’t checked out the Lumen5 videos on my YouTube channel and website then do have a look at them. It’s a great tool to use and the results look so professional.

Goin’ By The Book

Being an avid reader, it is perhaps no surprise that my first year in business included reading a number of business books. My top three from this year were:

  • Business Networking for Dummies by Stefan Thomas.
  • The Success Principles by Jack Canfield.
  • Be A Free Range Human by Marianne Cantwell.

With a Little Help From My Friends

This year I learned a huge amount, some from training courses, but by far the largest amount from the small business community, both locally and further afield, who have been hugely generous with their advice and support. Thank you to every one of you. You all know who you are.

Everything I do…. I do it for you.

No review of the year would be complete without mentioning my lovely, lovely clients. All wonderful to work with and I have been privileged to help and support them in their business journey. I have loved every moment of working for each and every one of them and am looking forward to helping them achieve even more in 2018. I must admit I feel incredibly lucky to be doing what I love, working for myself, and being able to really see the difference I’m making.

Read More In Less Time

read more, time saving, Reading Techniques

Limited Time to Read?  

I spoke to a business owner recently who was struggling with a business book.  She really wanted to read it but like all business owners, she had limited time to read.  She needed ways to get at the key themes of the book quickly and easily so she could read the full text with more understanding.

This is an issue that also arises in respect of complex reports, lengthy guidance documents and a whole host of other documents.  In today’s fast-paced world, getting at the key information quickly and easily is critical so I’ve put together a few ideas to help with this.

Skim It

With any document skimming the contents page first is a great start.  If you are dealing with a report that has an executive summary, read that next as it will cover all of the main points and conclusions quickly and easily.

Unpack It

To gain more information, move on to the introduction and conclusion of the report, or in the case of a book, each chapter.

If you are reading to gather particular information, for example, a report that you need to read ahead of a meeting, or a book from which you are researching a specific issue, then read only those sections that relate to what you need to know.   You can go back and read the rest later if you wish to, or find you need to.  The contents, introduction and conclusions should guide you to the right places.

You can also flick through the book to see if it is helpfully laid out with “Key points” and “action points” type boxes or other ways in which the author has signposted key content.  These make skim reading for understanding very easy as you can find the bits you need to read in more detail very easily whilst also getting a good grasp of the whole book.

Laser Targeted Searching

If it is a book and you really do only need to know about one very specific thing, then go directly to the index at the back, note down all the pages that relate to that thing, and read only those pages.

Views and Reviews

If these tips don’t speed things up enough for you, or you are still struggling and would welcome the views of other people on the book to see what they made of it, then try an internet search for the book precis or review.  Often this will bring up enough information to get you back into the book and reading actively or it may answer your query entirely.

If you are not sure whether a particular book will include the information you need to know, you can look on book review sites to find out more about the contents, how easy the book is to read and how useful people have found it.  Good sites for this include Amazon and Good Reads.  On Amazon you can sometimes look inside the book.  This often includes the contents page, allowing you to find out whether the book really will include the information you need.

Did you see the Movie?

If you are not a reader but really want to learn more from business books, there are YouTube videos which provide animated precis of key business books.  Really great if you are visual learner.

A Quick Word in your Ear

Finally, for those people who love to learn on the go, there is Blinkist, which for a small fee, allows you to download a fifteen minute precis of thousands of business and other non-fiction books so you can listen as you run, drive or go about your daily routine.

And if you still don’t have time to search for the content or information you need, get in touch, I’d be happy to help.

Running An Effective Meeting

Running An Effective Meeting

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

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

Purpose

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

Suitable reasons for calling a meeting include:

Disseminate information to many people at once.

Review progress on a joint project

Plan tasks involving multiple teams

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

Team building activities.

Information gathering.

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

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

I really do need to hold a meeting. 

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

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

Preparation

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

Timing

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

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

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

Purpose

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

Any Other Business

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

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

Addressing the meeting.

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

And on that note, I will end this post.

Six Key Considerations when hiring an Assistant

Six Key Considerations when hiring an Assistant

help assistance virtual assistance assistant lap top transcription writing

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

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

1.  Letting Go

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

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

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

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

3.  What tasks can I Outsource?

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

4.  Surely a Freelance will be awfully expensive?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Holidays and Small Business CAN mix

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plan Ahead and Work Around

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Outsource

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

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

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

Is your Email list GDPR compliant?

Is your Email list GDPR compliant?

data security, GDPR, Data Protection

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

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

Accountability Principle

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

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

Compliance

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

Email Marketing

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

Consent and Email Marketing

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

Action Points

So what action do you need to take?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Organisation is at the heart of Productivity

I've been thinking a lot about productivity and organisation lately.  Specifically, the way in which different techniques work for different people.  As a Virtual Assistant I help improve business productivity.  By utilising my organisation skills to complete tasks and projects quickly and efficiently, my client's can concentrate on revenue producing activities.  Naturally, I am always on the look-out for new tips to either share with clients or use in my own practice.  After all, the more efficiently I work, the more cost-effective my service to the client will be.

Whilst researching productivity, I found that many tips shared one key element.  From grouping similar tasks and tackling them together to putting items back where they belong so you can find them again.  All shared an emphasis on being organised in order to increase productivity.

There were also a lot of tips available and since interrogating the internet takes time and can lead to distractions (cute dog video's anyone?) I've bravely gone down that rabbit hole for you, come up with seven key tips, and put them all in one place for you.  These tips were common to many of the sites I visited and can all be implemented reasonably easily.

It is probably easier to pick just one tip and concentrate on that.  Trying to implement multiple new tips in one go is likely to make you feel less productive as you struggle to recall all the things you are supposed to be changing.  But one tip, with a reminder, posted up on your computer, the wall in the office, or the fridge, is manageable.  Maybe pick the tip that resonates most with you or the one that you feel would fit most effectively with the way you work.  And although one small change may not seem like much, you could be surprised by how much difference it makes to your productivity.

If you still find you are not getting through that work as fast as you would like then click here to choose you preferred method of contacting me.  Maybe I can add a touch of extra organisation to your day which will help you achieve that goal you are working towards.

productivity tips efficiency plan organise organisation sections concentrate organised review prioritise