Is Your Workplace affecting your Productivity?

Productive Productivity Workplace Productivity

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

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

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

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

Control

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

De-Clutter

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

Lists and Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

Really Effective Email Management

email management, inbox management, email tips and techniques

Does your email inbox contain every email you have ever received?  Do you struggle with email volume and despair of finding a really effective strategy for managing your ever-growing Inbox?  

Have you started a system of folders to manage your Inbox and then given up in frustration because you can’t remember which file you put things into?  Can you actually find what you are looking for within 30 seconds of starting a search? Or do you spend hours combing through your Inbox looking for that email you were sure you had the other day?

If these scenarios resonate with you then these simple tips will help you to get your Inbox under control and keep it that way.

Unsubscribe from things you never read.  All emails should have an unsubscribe button on them.

Move the things that are informative, and you think you might want to read later, to a separate folder.  You can do this automatically in both Outlook and Gmail by setting up rules for things like company notices and reports from your analytics software.  You can then review the folder you send it to once a week and move anything you want to keep to the correct permanent folder.

Create folders that make sense to you and when your work has been completed on that email, file it in the correct folder right away.  It honestly does save time if you put things where they belong in the first place.

Have an “Action” folder into which you put all the items you need to deal with.  You can then go to that one folder once a day and deal with it all at once, moving the completed emails to their final location in your folder system. You do have to be very disciplined about getting into the habit of checking the folder daily as it can have an element of “out of sight, out of mind” about it.

Email management, email organisation, inbox management

Only review your email inbox at set times during the day.  Three times a day is absolutely fine.  If something is “hair on fire urgent”, the client will ring you up.

Use the Getting Things Done approach to guide your initial review.  If the email will take you less than 2 minutes to read and action, just do it there and then.   If it needs a more considered response, flag it or colour code it and deal with it at the time you have set aside for this task every day.  If the email opens up some sort of can of worms or needs a really detailed response, and will be time-consuming to deal with, perhaps taking 20 minutes or more, I usually add the task to my To Do list so that it becomes a task of its own.

Email management, email organisation, inbox management

Colour coding and stars are not just for the classroom.  You can colour code emails in both Outlook and Gmail to show the priority you have allocated to them during your initial review.  This allows you to deal with emails quickly and in the right order of priority when you do sit down to tackle them.

Using an agreed colour coding system is also a great way to work collaboratively with a shared inbox so that two people don’t end up answering the same email.

Email management, email organisation, inbox management

I like to do a bit of work on my emails after lunch if it fits with my schedule.  Most people have a dip in energy levels after lunch so a spot of routine email answering is a great use of that time.

If you get distracted by those notifications that ping up every time an email comes in, and you find you can’t ignore them, you can disable the notifications entirely or choose settings that work for you.

Email management, email organisation, inbox management

If you have tried these tips and are still struggling, why not outsource your Inbox management?  Whether you need support with routine emails, assistance with streamlining your systems, or a full-scale intervention to bring calm to a chaotic Inbox, there is help at hand.

To access advice and support, and regain control of your wayward Inbox, get in touch for a free consultation.

Productivity Starts with You

Productivity; Productive; Tips for productivity

Yes. You.  There are all sorts of productivity tools and methods out there but they share a key feature at their heart.  You.  When it comes down to it, the only way you can become more productive is by changing the way you think about and act toward, the things you want to achieve.  So, at the start of a new year, here are ten tips that should help to start you on your way to greater productivity.  

Review your activity regularly.

Can you streamline the task you are doing?  Can you do the task differently, or put the steps in a different order so that you can be more efficient with your time?   Can you automate any steps?   Can any of the routine tasks, or parts of tasks, be outsourced to save you time?

By regularly evaluating what you are doing, and how you are doing it, and making small changes, you can improve productivity a little bit at a time.

Baby steps are better than no steps at all

A little bit at a time is a great way to tackle anything.  Baby steps can build into quite a journey if you just keep going.  This is particularly valuable if the task is large or one that you are not looking forward to.  Breaking a larger task down into smaller chunks and taking steps to complete each small chunk, one by one, gives a sense of achievement.  Also, if you have lots of small things on your list and you get through several of them, you do feel productive.  Feeling productive will encourage you to be productive.

Just get started on something.  If you are really stuck, just start on the thing that you know you can do well that day.  Even if that thing is tidying up the office.    Oddly, I have been known to have my best ideas when I’ve stopped trying to force them and just had a tidy up.  Some new idea will be triggered, you will get your motivation back, and you will be off again.

“If you think you can, or you think you can’t, you are right.” – Henry Ford

Motivation and having a positive mindset are key parts of productivity.  Believing that what you are about to tackle is not only possible but that you will smash it, is critical.  It is hugely helpful to surround yourself with positive people who motivate, challenge and support you.  When you are struggling (and no one can be super positive all the time) having people there who are supportive and positive can be hugely beneficial in getting you back on track and allowing you to believe that you can do the task you have set out to achieve.

If you find yourself feeling negative toward your task then it’s time to put that task away and work on something that you do feel positive about.  Go back to the difficult task on another day when you are feeling more positive about the work and you will probably find that it moves forward more quickly.

Say No more often.

That might seem odd, but it works.  There are only so many hours in the day and you can’t do everything.  If the task must be done but you don’t have time, then delegate it.  If the task is not important enough to actually delegate, consider whether you should just say No.   If you concentrate only on the tasks that will move you toward your goal, and say no to the things that will not contribute to the goal or will move you further from it, you can become more productive.

Consider tasks in the light of your goals each time and take on those that you really feel have value.  Reject or delegate tasks that will affect your work life balance because getting that right is also a key part of productivity.

Get some sleep, have some downtime

You can’t be productive if you are exhausted, stressed by all the calls on your time, starting to hate your job or business because you are spending too much time in it, and have lost sight of why you are doing what you do.  Motivation will hit rock bottom if you are tired and if you do nothing all day and all night other than work.

You will be more productive if you switch off for a while each day.  Whether you exercise, veg out in front of the television, pursue a hobby, read or meditate, whatever works for you.  But do something different.  You will get a perspective on your tasks and be more productive as a result.

Deadlines

If you don’t have an externally provided deadline, then create one.  Whether you are the sort of person who leaves the work to just before the deadline, or one who takes pride in submitting work well in advance of the deadline, it doesn’t matter.  The important thing is to set deadlines so that you have to complete work by a particular time or date.  If you don’t, the work just expands to fill the available time and you end up doing busy work that doesn’t contribute to the outcome.

Organise your day into chunks, fit tasks into time slots, and stick to those.  It really does help to make you more productive.

Focus, Focus, Focus

Don’t multi-task.  Please.  Just don’t.  Most people don’t benefit from it and there is scientific evidence to suggest that it actually reduces productivity.  It is much more productive to really focus on one thing at a time.

One way to do this is the Pomodoro Technique, which has you completely focus on a task for a set time, usually 25 minutes, and then take a five minute break.  Do four of these task focus sessions, with the 5 minute break between, and then have a longer break of 15 to 20 minutes.  Rinse and repeat.

Keep your To Do List short

There are few things more stressful than a massive To Do list.  You will spend much of the day panicking about how much you still have left to do on the list.  This panic will affect your productivity because in the back of your mind you are always thinking of the next task and this affects your focus.

It is better to be realistic, have only three or four main tasks on your list and get those done.  You can also add a few small tasks that need very little focus and can slot those in between the larger tasks.  This can be helpful in giving your mind a bit of a rest before you tackle the next larger task.   Things like answering Emails, making routine calls and setting up appointments would all count as smaller tasks.

By keeping your list realistic you can focus fully on each task on your list and you will complete them successfully because of this.

Notice what wastes your time

And take steps to corral those things into a set timescale so that they cannot take over your day.  For me, it is Social Media.  I have three set times each day when I look at it.  I’ve banned myself from looking at it at any other time because otherwise I’d be reading interesting articles and adding new and exciting ideas to my “Investigate This Further” list for rather longer than planned.

Disorganisation and mess are the enemies of productivity

I’m not advocating a sterile, clear desk that contains only a beautiful mug, a flower and one, beautifully clean, laptop.  I am not sure I’ve ever owned a desk that had a flower on it, and most of my mugs are well loved and not a candidate for one of those fancy flat lay photos that seem to suggest we all work on clear desks, in really large, light rooms, and make fancy patterns on our coffee every time we go to the kitchen for a brew.

If you saw my desk you would know it was a place of work.  However, I know where everything is.   The things I need to lay my hands on quickly are right where I need them.  My filing system yields up its information quickly and effectively.  I seldom need to spend much time looking for things.

You can be so much more productive in an organised environment.  If you are surrounded by an environment which you feel is not organised then you will feel less organised.  You will be distracted by the need to put something away, move something out of the way, or search for something that you were sure you had last week.

It can be useful to set aside time to tidy the desk or workspace on a Friday before you leave work.  When you get to your desk on Monday you have a tidy and organised environment which will set the tone for a productive and effective week.

Next Steps

Task delegation was mentioned earlier in the article and it really can make a difference to productivity as it is the best way to free up more time for you, more time for you to concentrate on your business and more time to achieve your goals.  If you are struggling with your productivity and your admin is taking over your life, then let’s have a chat.

I can take your admin tasks and make them run smoothly, so you don’t feel you want to run away from them.  Leaving you free to be really productive in the areas that will most benefit your business.  Still not sure?  Why not see the difference my support has made to other businesses here.

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.

4 Reasons to Outsource Your Data Input

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

 1.   Time is Money

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

2.    Accuracy

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

3.    Speed

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

4.    Motivation and Productivity

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

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

What kinds of Data Input can be Outsourced?

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

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

10 Simple Tips for Proof Checking Success

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

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

psychology proof checking failure optical illusion

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

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

1.  A spell checker

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

2.  Grammarly

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

3.  Read Aloud

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

4.  Print it Out

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

5.  Multiple Checks

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

6.  Phone a Friend

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

7.  It’s the small things that matter

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

8.  Vary your Route

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

9.  It’s not just the words

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

10.  Fresh Eyes

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

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

Six Key Considerations when hiring an Assistant

Six Key Considerations when hiring an Assistant

help assistance virtual assistance assistant lap top transcription writing

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

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

1.  Letting Go

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

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

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

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

3.  What tasks can I Outsource?

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

4.  Surely a Freelance will be awfully expensive?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Holidays and Small Business CAN mix

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plan Ahead and Work Around

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Outsource

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

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

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