A Productive Environment

A Productive Environment

In the final part of this series on productivity, I’m looking at the impact of people and the environment on your productivity.  I touched on this in the first part of the series in January.  If you missed it, just go here to catch up.

Whilst discussing personality and its impact on how productive we are, I touched on the issue of noise and silence as well as busy versus quiet environments.  If you are naturally more comfortable or creative in one environment than in the other then you will be more productive.

For some people, of course, you may find that for creative tasks you need a busy environment and for routine tasks a quiet location is best.  Or vice versa.  This is one reason why it can be helpful for employers to provide collaboration areas as well as quiet areas where space allows since this can give employees a choice and thus increase productivity both across the team and individually.

Together or alone?

Problem-solving can also be affected by the environment with some people more likely to come up with innovative solutions within a brainstorming situation whilst for other a bit of silence works best, at least until you have some options to discuss.  Similarly, for some people a meeting stimulates their thoughts and they go back to the desk re-energised and ready to work.  For others, meetings can feel draining and pointless. Of course, this is also affected by the quality of the meeting.

Unfortunately, in many cases, meetings are run badly, the agenda is not adhered to and decisions aren’t made.  At their worst, they become a stadium for the loudest to grandstand whilst those who are quieter feel they cannot contribute.  If your meetings fall into the latter category, check out my blog on this subject for some tips on how to run a really effective meeting that will contribute to productivity rather than stifling it.

The Radio Debate

The amount of noise in the background can be a huge distraction or provide the necessary stimulation to increase your productivity.  As mentioned earlier in the series, often this will be affected by your location on the Extraversion/Introversion scale of the MBTI with introverts tending toward a love of quiet and extroverts tending to be uncomfortable with silence.

You will be most productive in an environment in which you are comfortable and which you don’t find overly distracting.  In many cases, a low background noise is easier to tune out than sudden, unexpected noises and for some people, the frequency of the noise makes a difference to productivity.  The debate about radio on/radio off, as well as arguments over the channel it is tuned to, is an old argument and one that ends up being refereed by the HR department in any number of organisations across the world with depressing frequency.

Space

How much space do you require?  Even this makes a difference to productivity.  Trying to work in a tiny space with everything squished up on a tiny desk when you naturally prefer a more spread out, spacious environment, can affect productivity.  I do think everyone has a need to be able to find the stuff they need, when they need it, in order to be properly productive.  That will look different in each case.

I’ve worked with someone who put every single thing away and worked on one thing at a time.  Not a Post-It note out of place, just one pen, one piece of paper and an entirely clear desk.  I’ve worked with someone whose office furniture, the floor of the office, corridor and kitchen area were all entirely obscured by towering piles of documents, from which, amazingly, he could always produce the exact thing required.  More common is the slightly untidy desk upon which the phone is always in its place, the keyboard and screen are placed correctly and at the right height for comfort and health, and you can reach your coffee mug but aren’t in danger of knocking it over.

Something as simple as having a left-hand curve on your desk when you naturally work better on a right-hand curve can negatively affect productivity.  You need to be able to move easily and have your reference documents on the side you are comfortable with.  Having a desk too close to a wall so your chair can’t move easily backwards, or setting up in a room so small that you feel claustrophobic can also reduce your productivity.

Also, and this is another one that gets refereed by HR quite frequently; room temperature.  Some people are sent off to sleep in a warm room.  Others can’t work when it’s cold.  Your productivity can certainly be affected by temperature and in a shared office, sometimes the only way around this is a bit of compromise and wearing layered clothing that can be adjusted to suit your particular needs.

Enthusiasm

This is a key one for productivity.  We all prefer to do things we like don’t we?  It’s so much easier to be productive when completing tasks we enjoy and are good at.  You will be awesomely productive when doing tasks you love.

Also, it’s not that difficult to be productive when doing a task you like.  Even if you aren’t that great at it yet, you’ll want to learn to do it more efficiently and eventually become proficient, and productive, in that area.

If you aren’t that good at the task AND you don’t like doing it, you will procrastinate, put the task off, and when you do get around to doing it, the task will feel as though it is taking forever to complete, you’ll grumble and moan to yourself, take lots of tea breaks and feel unproductive, bored and frustrated.  Those tasks are the ones that you outsource as soon as you are able to afford to do so.  Because for every task you really, really hate, there will be someone out there that cannot wait to get stuck into it.

Hopefully, this series has given you some ideas for areas where you can increase your productivity by making small changes.  However, if you are still struggling with your workload or productivity, remember:

Doing what you are best at  + Outsourcing tasks that don’t bring in money = Peak Productivity.

That’s the secret formula that allows my clients to sleep at night, spend time with family and earn more money.  If you’d like some of that, give me a call.

Your Productive Personality

Your Productive Personality; productivity

Productivity:  the art of getting stuff done.  Or rather, the art of getting the right stuff done.

We’ve all had days where we’ve toiled away and achieved nothing that moves the business forward.  However, understanding your productivity style can really help you to focus on reducing those days to a minimum and tap into your productive personality.

Understanding your personality helps you to create a schedule that works well for you, set priorities in a way that plays to your strengths and personal preferences, and helps you to fit the work to who you are, so your work becomes a seamless and almost effortless activity rather than a fight to fit everything into your day.

Introversion and extroversion have a great impact on your work style.  Introverts working in a very noisy or high-energy environment may lose energy partway through the day, drained by the constant effort of tuning out the unwanted stimulation of chat, background noise and constant interruptions.  This can lead to lack of productivity in the latter part of the day.  Extroverts, on the other hand, could well find themselves thriving in that very busy environment and struggling hugely in a quiet office at home.

The recent increase in home working may, therefore, have an interesting impact on productivity, potentially increasing productivity in introverts (who may well emit a sigh of relief at the silence) whilst decreasing productivity in extroverts who may be driven mad by a quiet environment.  This could lead in turn to some interesting appraisal findings too, with highly productive, highly extrovert staff suddenly suffering a dip in productivity.

Personality Tests

Of course, introversion/extroversion is a scale along which we all fall, and as with most scales, forms a normal bell curve with fewer people lying at the extreme ends of the scale.  Thus, when considering the impact on your productivity, you will find that in some circumstances, busy and noisy might be a boost to your productivity whilst in other circumstances, silence is most certainly golden.

You have to take into account as well that all personality tests measure what they set out to measure.  By which I mean, each test examines particular areas which the creator believed were critical differentiators of personality types. So sometimes the questions are more instructive than the overall ranking you achieve.  If you read a set of personality test results and don’t believe that they reflect who you are, then in all probability, you are right and the test results are wrong.  However, you may well find that some of the questions have raised points that you find useful to consider when deciding where, when and how you are most productive.

The main benefit of personality tests is to help you to consciously think about yourself and how you work, what motivates you, what demotivates you, and what your approach to certain key areas of your life tends to be.  The score is not as important as the insight you gain from the process.

There are a range of personality tests available online, some of which are based on well-known typologies including the famous Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) from which the Introversion/Extroversion scale is taken.  Many of us are familiar with the latter, but the MBTI also includes three other scales and our place on these four scales taken together forms a set of 16 personality types and a great insight into our productive personality too:

Introversion/Extroversion

This scale effectively measures whether you prefer to focus on the outside world or on your own inner world.

Information

This measures how much focus you place on the information you are given and how much meaning or interpretation you add to that basic information.  This is the Sensing/Intuition scale.

Decisions

Examines whether you look at the data on which you plan to make the decision and apply logic or do you look first at the people and circumstances involved in the decision.  This is the Thinking/Feeling scale.

Structure

Investigates whether you like things to be decided quickly or tend to be open to new information and options.  This is the Judging/Perceiving scale.

Your personality type is then expressed as a four letter code, each letter showing your preference in each of the four categories.  Understanding these elements allows you to see how you might alter your daily routine to make best use of your personality strengths, whether that is choosing the right location, providing yourself with extra thinking time by scheduling your daily walk prior to a task which you know you need to mull over, or creating a space in the day for research to ensure you feel confident in the decisions you are making and can implement them confidently and well.

DISC Profiling

Another useful testing methodology to identify important elements that make up your productive personality is DISC profiling.  This can be very helpful in providing insight into what motivates you, how you solve problems and what stresses you out.  It is well known as a tool to help you to understand how to communicate with different people and how to work as a team with very different individuals.  However, the insight into your motivation and problem solving is very useful when working out how to improve your productivity.

Consider how the findings from your investigations fit with the current structure of a typical workday and work environment.  If you feel there is a clash, consider how you might alter things to help you harness your productive personality traits so you can work more effectively.  If there is an area where you realise that particular activities or processes enhance your productivity already, how can you make that work even better for you?

If you’d like to find out more about increasing YOUR productivity, keep checking back to read the rest of the series.  In the meantime, if you are struggling with your workload or productivity, remember:

Tailored Approach to workload  + Outsourcing tasks that don’t bring in money = Peak Productivity.

That’s the secret formula that allows my clients to sleep at night, spend time with family and earn more money.  If you’d like some of that, give me a call.

Winterproof Your Business

Winter Planning, Business Planning HR Business, small business

Winter weather can cause some real issues and one of the biggest problems can be staff struggling to make it into work.  No one wants their staff to take risks or become injured, but equally, it is important that business does not grind to a halt either.  Depending on your sector, the impact can range from mild inconvenience for clients through to life-threatening danger if emergency services are insufficiently staffed.

It makes sense to plan for such eventualities, after all, winter arrives every year, though sometimes the media makes it sound like snow, rain and cold weather come as a surprise each time.

Including weather issues in your business continuity plan, alongside things like utility failures, cyber attacks and epidemics of Flu makes a lot of sense .  Planning ahead allows you to consider many of the impacts and decide how you will manage them.  If a particular department or role is business-critical, what steps will you take to ensure this role can be covered if the employee cannot attend work?

Including a weather policy in your staff handbook ensures everyone is clear about what the company’s expectations are, to whom they should report difficulties and, if appropriate, the radius within which it is expected that staff should, mobility issues permitting, attempt to walk to work.

Be clear about the circumstances in which you will pay your staff to remain at home and make sure the rules are fair and transparent.  May staff take holiday entitlement to avoid the bad weather?  Will there be any restrictions on this?

Naturally, the safety of your staff and clients will be a priority and some common considerations include:

Gritting the car park and footpaths.  On a large site this might need a decision on grit stocks, staff out of hours attendance, 24 hour rotating shift patterns or similar.  The safety of not only staff, but also customers and contractors needs to be considered.

Snow, ice and heavy rain can all create slip hazards indoors via water on the floor.  Will you provide buckets near the doorway in which you can stand umbrellas?  Thick, absorbent, non-skid mats in doorways can reduce water transfer and it’s worth considering whether you have sufficient yellow warning signs available to place near doorways where the water will be at its worst?  Cleaning staff might need to be asked to work overtime to keep the floors as dry as possible throughout the day and remove salt and grit that has been tracked across both hard floors and carpets.

Hazardous driving conditions – if you can possibly avoid staff needing to attend work during very bad weather, for example red or amber weather warnings, consider whether you can do so.  Allowing key personnel to work from home if necessary can be a great way to get around this problem, and make your staff feel supported.  Telecoms and IT systems can all be set up to allow this to happen easily.

The option to work from home at least some of the time is a very popular perk and being able to offer this can help to attract the best staff, in addition to providing the company with the flexibility to continue working during poor weather.  It is helpful to add a remote working policy to the staff handbook and make clear that such working is at management discretion.

Guidance surrounding device use and security may also be needed as part of the handbook depending on the level of security and confidentiality involved.  Remember that GDPR will still apply so personal data must be protected off site just as carefully as it is on-site.

If your business involves care for vulnerable people, will you organise transport to pick up those who are unable to get to work easily?

There are a number of areas that need to be considered and these are just some of them.  The needs of the individual business and its staff need to be carefully balanced.  Full and effective documentation which clearly outlines plans and expectations whilst prioritising safety and business continuity will help your business to plan ahead and to keep running throughout any difficult weather.

I support HR consultants with a range of HR Administration, including manuals, handbooks and documentation.  Get in touch with me here to find out how I can help you to get more done, in less time, profitably.

Dream to Achieve: The Importance of Sleep

Lack of Sleep Sleep deprivation Sleep, Dream, Dreaming

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

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

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

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

Distracted and Inefficient

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

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

Memory Failures

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

(Not) Getting Things Done

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

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

Relationships

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

The Solution

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

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

Business Processes: The Blueprint for Success

Business Processes

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

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

steps, steps to improve, steps to increase

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

checklist, GDPR checklists

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

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

business procesesses project planning project management

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

business processes project planning project management

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are YOU Outsourcing these five tasks?

Outsourcing Virtual Assistant VA Admin Support

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

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

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

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

Diary and Meeting Management

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

In-Box Management

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

Social Media

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

Data Input

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

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

General Admin Tasks

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

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

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.

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.

Successful Project Planning: Five Key Features

Project planning successful projects project support project support

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

Flexibility

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

Dealing with Roadblocks

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

Wiggle Room

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

Blast Off

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

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

Cost Control

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

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

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

Delegation:  The Rocket Fuel for your Business

Delegation

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

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

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

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

The 7 most commonly experienced barriers are discussed below.

I like doing the task

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

I can do it better myself

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

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

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

I can’t explain what I want

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

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

No one can do it the way I like it.

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

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

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

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

I don’t know who I can trust.

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

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

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

I can’t afford it

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

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

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

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