Work From Home: Can we really extrapolate from the current situation?

ACAS has carried out a poll which shows that 50% of people working from home felt isolated and 7 out of ten were missing social interactions with others at work. This started me wondering; we’ve moved to a work from home situation in a hurry and most companies have had to put plans in place fast and without the opportunity to think through choices as thoroughly as they might otherwise.

I work from home as a VA but this took forethought in terms of choosing workspace location, layout, desk size and height, IT equipment placement and spec. It took me a while to get the right set up.

Prior to working as a VA, I worked for a company which was very invested in working from home. I was in a remote team, provided with all the kit, software and training I needed and had to sign to say my workspace met safety standards. The tech included both messaging and conferencing software and a work mobile phone. I was encouraged to keep in touch with people and to build relationships across the company. This company had been able to take the time to set things up so that they worked well for their employees, test the technology to ensure it worked flawlessly and provide training in its use. They used regular virtual meetings to keep everyone up to date on what was happening across the business and in short, were fully set up to ensure isolation was kept to a minimum and productivity could soar.

The figures from ACAS are based on a very unusual situation and made me wonder whether they were representative of what it feels like to work from home in a well planned and fully supported way. That’s not to criticise the efforts made by businesses to make the work from home thing work, nor is it a criticism of the figures from ACAS. I just wonder if the situation, the strangeness, the underlying worry, all impact and make it less like a “normal” work from home situation and thus subconsciously affect the figures. After all, we are isolated from more than just our workmates and many people are worried, for themselves and others. All of this must surely impact on how people answer such a survey.

Finder.com quote a figure of 19% feeling lonely and I believe this figure to be pre-lockdown so it may be that the speed of change, lack of general access to communication methods such as instant messaging and the general concern and worry may be impacting the ACAS figures. I suspect that it would not show such a high level of isolation in organisations where they’ve had the opportunity to ameliorate that with considered tech choices and inclusive ways of working.

It’s going to be a very interesting few months in the workplace as we negotiate our way toward a new normal. It has certainly brought working from home up the agenda, something that many in HR will be pleased about, though not, of course, about the reasons for it being there.

I expect there will be increased interest in finding ways to make this work well for a variety of sectors and HR will be at the forefront of this discussion. and it will be interesting to see whether it stays there now that businesses have seen it in action and staff have experienced it for themselves.

I’m looking forward to supporting my HR Consultant clients with the challenges and opportunities that these changes in normal working will bring and helping to support a move to a new normal where, hopefully, working from home will be an option offered more often to staff in sectors where this is feasible and appropriate.

If you are looking to work with a VA who is an expert in HR Support, you can contact me here.

A Slimmer Inbox Fast

A Slimmer In Box Fast.  Email Management.  InBox management

One of my regularly requested services is In Box taming because they can so easily, and quickly, get out of control.  Even VA’s aren’t immune to multiplying emails when things get busy, so we understand how the inbox can quickly get to a point where it feels difficult to manage.  Being able to find and move multiple emails into a designated folder location within Gmail whilst also removing them from the InBox so that it is slimmer and easier to negotiate is a really great trick to have in your toolbox.  It’s also a trick you can use for deleting multiple emails.

Labels are the equivalent of a folder and are a great way to ensure the emails you do want to keep are safely stored.  By default, emails usually have a label of InBox, (even if you add new labels) and removing that Inbox label so the email goes to its allocated folder and ceases to lurk in the Inbox isn’t super obvious.  You would think you’d remove it under Labels on the ribbon bar, but you don’t.

The first step is to create a Folder/Label for your emails to be stored in.  Name it something easy and clear such as Client X.

GMail, GMail Tips, GMail Labels, Organised Inbox

The option for labels is on the top ribbon bar.  As you can see, you can create a new label.  Click this and an option to name the label will come up together with the option to nest the label under another to create a file hierarchy.  So one option is to create a folder labelled Clients and perhaps nest a folder label for Client X under this.

Now you have your label you can go and find all your emails relating to Client X.  There are several ways to search for emails. The most obvious, though not the quickest, is to search in the search box.  This can bring up emails you don’t want as it draws in emails that mention the person as well as emails to and from them.  Useful in certain circumstances but not necessarily ideal when you are trying to streamline an inbox.

If you have conversation view selected your emails will be organised to an extent though you may still have multiple conversations running with the same person.

To quickly find all emails on the same subject, right-click on an email and then select ‘Find emails with this subject’. Gmail will now show you both the received and sent emails with the same topic.

You use a similar method to find emails from the same sender.   Just right-click on the email and select “Find Emails From…”  Be aware that choosing the sender will only show received emails so your replies won’t get drawn into the search results.  Good for newsletters or informative emails that you want to keep, not so good for conversation threads.

GMail Tips, GMail, GMail Labels, GMail find multiple messages

Once you have your search results, tick the box just above the emails on the left side and this will highlight and tick all the emails you’ve found. You can then go to Labels and add the correct label to the emails or right click to get the menu shown below and choose “Label As”.  If there are some emails you don’t want to move to that label, just untick those before you choose your label and they won’t be labelled.

Now for the magic bit; evicting them from your Inbox.  The label “InBox” doesn’t show on the list of labels so you can’t just remove the label that way.  Instead, keeping the relevant emails ticked, go up to your email menu bar, choose Archive and your inbox label is magically removed, streamlining your inbox in one click.  Or, right-click and choose Archive from the menu as shown above.  Clever or what?

For those of you dealing with a seriously overweight inbox, it can be helpful to temporarily instruct Gmail to show 50 items so that you can examine and move as many messages as possible in one go.  To do this, click the three dots on the section of inbox you are trying to thin out (usually the Everything Else section) and you can choose the number of items it will show.

For very obese inboxes you may well need to do multiple searches for the same information to get all the items into the right folder and delete the antiques leaving only the collectables behind.

You can use a similar approach if you want to put your Gmail on a strict diet.  Find your target emails, highlight all, untick anything you actually want to keep, then instead of labelling the messages, delete them.  Once you’ve deleted a few screens worth, don’t forget to go into the Trash can and empty that out to permanently delete things, otherwise they may well hang about longer than you’d like them to, taking up storage space you could use for other things.  Particularly important if you deal with sensitive information as I sometimes do.  You want that information completely gone, not lurking in the trash can.

In the past, I’ve recommended apps that can unsubscribe you from newsletters and so forth to try to keep the level of incoming mail to a manageable level. However, there have been issues with at least one of these services selling personal data so now I recommend unsubscribing yourself from things manually, as they come up in your inbox.  Yes, it takes longer, but at least you don’t get zillions of offers of stuff you don’t need from companies you’d not want to use, who purchased your data so they can spam your inbox with rubbish.

A further option for newsletters and other interesting information is to have a folder into which you can move emails that might be needed in the future.  However, for some people, including me, this renders the information “out of sight, out of mind” and they rarely, if ever, visit the folder to retrieve the information, so this is one to treat with care and a realistic understanding of your own working practices.

Hopefully, this will help you to slim down your Gmail inbox to manageable proportions and once you have it under control you might find some useful tips here on keeping it slim and efficient.

Alternatively, if you are one of those people whose inbox is so huge that it contains every email you’ve ever received or sent, and you just can’t see where to start, why not call in an expert VA to get that bad boy sorted and under control, and set up some systems that will work for you, so you can keep it to a healthy weight in future.  Click here to contact me to discuss your requirements.

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.

Elves in the Workplace: The Role of Elven Resources

He speeds through the sky in his sleigh, delivering gifts to every good little boy and girl in the world. He’s done it for so many years that he makes it look effortless.  But have you ever stopped to consider how much organisation lies behind the magic of Santa Claus and his amazing Christmas Eve exploits?

Naturally, Santa Claus uses VA’s throughout the year;  it’s the most flexible and cost-effective way to ensure everything is organised properly and happens on schedule.  He has a team of them and you can read about how they support him here and here.  These helpful souls ensure that everything from the sleigh maintenance to the warehouse stock control are kept rigorously under control.

In most cases, Santa needs only two or three of each type of VA.  The exception to this is his Elven Resources Support.  In common with many business owners, Santa Claus uses external Elven Resources Consultants and HR VA’s to help him to ensure he remains on the right side of the law, acts in a fair and reasonable way toward his staff of Elves, recruits effectively and without bias, and of course provides a safe, fair and inclusive environment.  Despite the speed at which he drives that sleigh, Santa is basically a law-abiding gentleman and in addition, he is deeply compassionate and really cares for his team of Elves and reindeer.  Even when those same Elves are testing his patience to its limits.

Elves, Elven Resources, Christmas Elves, Elf-On-The-Shelf

Santa’s Elven Resources Support staff is quite numerous.  The reason for this is simple;  Elves are, how shall we put it politely?  A bit giddy.  All the time.  But especially in the run-up to Christmas.  Elves can test the patience of the most saintly person and even Santa Claus is not immune to frustration when faced with a deputation of Elves complaining about an Elf cooking fish in the warehouse microwave and stinking up the room.

Every year the ER department and an increasingly irascible Santa are forced to add new and sometimes very specific, clauses into the ever-expanding Staff Handbook and the Elf and Safety Handbook.  Clauses which have been added in 2019 include:

“Elves that pin other Elves slippers (or any other part of an Elf or an Elf’s clothing) to any inanimate object will be disciplined”.

“Shaving rude words into the Reindeer’s fur whilst they sleep will not be tolerated”

“Do NOT tie, stick or pin anything to the Reindeer, especially not other Elves”

“Do not place fake dog turds on the conveyor belt”

“Elves may not ride on the conveyor belt”

“Joyriding in the sleigh is a disciplinary offence”

“Do not pin “Kick Me Hard” notices to the back of Santa’s jacket.

Elves, Elven Resources, Elf-On-The-Shelf

And so it goes on.  And every year, partly to assuage their frustration, the Elven Resources Department creates an informal top ten of the most interesting and original disciplinary cases they’ve dealt with.  Because when it comes to Elves, you just never know what they are going to do next.

And here, for your delectation, are the top ten for 2019

10 – the Elf that tied Rudolph’s legs together whilst he slept and then videoed poor Rudolph waking up and falling over.

9 – The Elf that broke wind in the cafeteria and tried to light it, causing damage to himself and the floor when he dropped the match and it set fire to his slippers and the carpet.

8 – The Elves that had a fistfight over whether one of them had let the other Elf’s chair down half a inch whilst the Elf in question was out at lunch.

7- The elves that sneaked into the Jewellery warehouse and were caught on CCTV getting very friendly indeed.

6 – The elf that sneaked into the cafeteria and put vodka into the water carafes so that all the Elves got drunk and had to be sent home.

5 – the Admin Elf who didn’t know how to process orders.  Rather than ask, he hid the orders in the cupboard.  Something that was only discovered when Stock Control VA realised that the 14 million LOL dolls she’d ordered had not arrived, and had subsequently sold out across the world, causing a large number of children to be disappointed on Christmas Day.

4- The elf that claimed his mother had died four times this year in order to gain extra time off.

3- The elf with a bad back who posted a video of herself on Facebook, waterskiing in the Bahamas during her sick leave.

2- The Elf that shaved the word Poop into Blitzens’ fur whilst she slept.

1 – The Elf that got drunk at the office party, stripped naked and streaked around the room. When Santa Claus intervened, the Elf threw up on Santa Claus’ boots.

As you can imagine, with all these Elf-y amusements going on, there is a great need for HR VA’s who can keep a straight face and take rapid notes in grievance hearings and disciplinaries.  Elves talk as fast as they move, so speed is of the essence in capturing the key points of the discussion and writing them up clearly and rapidly after the meeting.  To read more about the importance of note-taking in such meetings, go here.

If you’ve enjoyed this blog, do check out some of my other Christmas posts, including this one, which is also HR Related.  Of course, you may prefer to check out my more serious, and probably more useful, posts also.  And if you are looking for a VA with HR experience, or just a VA with a sense of humour and a love of organisation, get in touch.  You can contact me here.

A Dozen Ways to get Organised

Organised, Filing, Admin, Organisation, Office Organisation

This post is in praise of something quite small, quite humble, but incredibly useful:  the Sticky note:  I love them and as an organisational tool they have much to recommend them.  Here are a dozen uses for these little notes, some of which you might not have thought of.

1.    Blinding flashes of memory.

You are in the middle of task A & realise you need to do Task B on Thursday.  Scribble on a sticky note & stick it to Thursday’s diary page.

2.    Planning a large project?

Create your project plan on a whiteboard or giant roll of paper.  Allocate a different colour sticky note for each project phase, type of task or person involved and you can move them around until your project is streamlined and effective.  If you are looking for ways to bring your project in on time and under budget, check out some of my tips for project planning here and here.

Sticky Note Sticky notes uses for sticky notes sticky notes for planning

3.    Retrieve the label or spine card from the ring binder.

You know the ones… little plastic window with a bit of card in it… you can spend days trying to tease that bit of card out of the window so you can turn it over and write on it, by which time it tends to look as though it has been chewed by locusts.   OR, you can poke the corner of a sticky note down the window, press hard to make the sticky note adhere to the card insert, and carefully pull the card out.

4.    Use the sticky side to clean out your keyboard.

Push the sticky part in between the keys and drag it back and forth to clean the sides of the keys.

Sticky note; uses for sticky note; note; notes

5.  Motivation or Reminder

Stick them to household items like mirrors or doors to remind you to do, or not do something.  Whether that is aimed at changing a habit or just a reminder to pick up the dog food.  They are great for reminding you to put petrol in the car.  Stick it to the steering wheel.

6.  All Together Now

Fold a note over two pieces of paper to keep them together when you can’t find a paper clip.

7.  Where was I again?

Book marks… they don’t mark the book, but equally, they don’t fall out either so your place is safe.

book mark;  books

8.  Don’t be a Vandal

Make notes in books that you cannot, or do not want to, write in.

9.  Avoid Conflict

Planning seating charts. Move everyone about until you are quite certain that you’ve seated everyone in a way that minimises the risk of World War Three breaking out over the starters.

9.    Flag it up

Use as flags in books and long documents to index them.  You can also use a colour code to denote particular concepts if your document is long and complicated.  For more ideas for using colour coding to increase your organisation, check out this blog post.

Flag; index flags; sticky flags; Sticky Note; sticky notes

11.  File it and Find it

Cut the sticky edge off and use it as a temporary file label. You can also use them, with the addition of Sellotape around the edges, as a more permanent file label solution and even colour code files with them.

12.  Reduce Stress

Label items that are going into different boxes or rooms when you are planning your house move.  This will make it quicker to box up the items at the last minute or will help the movers to box things up logically if you are having them pack for you.   Sticky labels or permanent marker pen are recommended for the main box labelling.

house move; moving boxes

There are, of course, a range of other uses for these versatile little notes, including sticking them to your head as part of a game of “Guess who I am?”, sticking them over the standby light on the TV in a hotel room to stop the light keeping you awake, cutting them up to make miniature paper chains, and a whole host of other inventive ideas which are outside the scope of this article.  However, a quick Google search will bring up a great array of ideas for you to choose from.

Whether you need organisational support, or someone to research an area of interest and present a short report on your options, your VA can help you with these and lots more tasks besides.  To find out more about how a VA could help you to get organised and save time, click here.

Planning Increases Productivity

Planning, Planner, Productivity

When you approach your desk on a Monday, are you faced with a tangled clutter of papers, cryptic notes about things to do and a mass of post it notes all stuck together?  Do you spend half an hour sorting everything out before you can even begin? Trying to remember where you were at with tasks you didn’t have time to finish?

There is another way.  All you need is a notebook and pen.  Old School but it works for all sorts of reasons, including the fact that you recall more if you physically write it down.

Note Taking; minutes; hearings;  to do list

So, are you ready to begin getting a handle on your workload and smash your To Do List every week?  Get hold of a cheap notebook, Filofax, diary or fancy-pants planner, what you use is up to you.  The important thing is how you use it.  Personally, I like the book to either fit on a stand out of my way, or sit flat on the desk, out of my way.  I don’t want to waste time messing with the book to make it stand up, stay open or get out of the way of my mouse.

Divide the page into two down the centre.  One side for appointments.  The other side is for your To Do list.   If you are using a Filofax with day to a page inserts the page is divided into time slots already making your planning even easier to do.

If you are just using a notebook, scribble the appointments in time order on one side.  Make a page for every day of the week.

Now you know the shape of your week and the shape of each day and can see which days you have time to do time consuming tasks and which days you need to schedule quicker wins and you can take that into account on your To Do list.  Add tasks to the days, taking account of deadlines and priority.

Planner  Planning Organise Filofax to do list

Large tasks are best broken down into smaller elements because otherwise you will never feel you will have time to tackle them.

Small tasks can be grouped together, particularly if they are similar, and tackled all in the same time slot.

I like lined paper in my books and a good trick is to write your To Do list on every other line initially.  This gives you space to add incoming tasks between the planned ones in order of priority if your day gets really busy.

For every task, estimate a realistic timescale.  Will it take an hour?  A day?  A week?  Allocate a timescale to each task and then quickly tally up to check you don’t have more tasks than you have hours in the day.  If you do, move some of the tasks that aren’t time critical to another date.

Don’t forget to allocate time for personal stuff.  The dog still needs to be walked and both it, and you, need to eat.  Maybe you go to yoga on Thursday, or really want to watch your TV serial at 9pm.  Put these down too. A To Do list is not confined to work.  We are all well rounded people who have interests we want to pursue and these can, and should, have time allocated to them.

Relaxation, Yoga, Time for You, Planning Downtime

It’s a live document and it’s there to keep you on track.  So check back each time you finish a task and cross it off the list (so satisfying).  Pick the tasks from your list in order of importance.  It can also be helpful to highlight the key tasks that you absolutely must do that day. This can help you stay focused on the important items.

Setting the timings and prioritising tasks is the key to getting the most critical tasks done.  Every list has something on it that is a nice to have but not critical.  Try asking yourself whether the task will bring you money, spark joy or cause an issue if it isn’t done.  If it doesn’t do any of these things should it be done at all?

It can take a little while for you to find your rhythm.  At first you will probably underestimate how long some tasks will take.   Once you get better at setting the timings for tasks your plan will become more accurate and effective.

And guess what?  No one completes all of their To Do List.  If you achieve 80 – 90% of it, and that percentage includes the critical tasks, then you are winning.

If you are still feeling overwhelmed by tasks then you may be reaching the point where it is time to outsource some of the routine, time-consuming tasks. By reviewing your past To Do Lists you can often see a pattern; certain tasks will be moving from list to list, week to week without getting done.  These are the areas that people benefit from outsourcing.  And of course, if the tasks that are not getting done are admin-related, you can always get in touch with me to discuss ways you can streamline or outsource tasks so you can concentrate on generating income rather than paperwork.

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.

Success in 60 Seconds

Success Copy-Writing Content-Writing Elevator-Pitch Content

As a society, our attention span is shortening considerably.  Whilst not yet a society with the attention span of a gnat, we do expect pages to load quickly, posts and articles to be short and people to get to the point in a conversation or email without a lot of padding.  The success of our business can depend on it.

Whether you are looking at creating a blog, social media posts, or the notorious “elevator” pitch for business networking, you need to make it memorable, attractive, concise and most importantly, clear, if you want it to be a success.  If you don’t people will move on to consider the next person, business or piece of content.

So how do you achieve that?  Particularly with the elevator pitch which is very short and needs to fit into 40 or 60 seconds.  How do you encapsulate your whole business, who you are and what you stand for, into such a short time frame?  The answer for some people is to create a story.

Storytelling

Because there is a storytelling tradition in all societies, we grow up understanding how they are structured.  Stories can be used to form shortcuts that allow others to fill in gaps and understand more in less time.

Use the right words and you can conjure up pictures in people’s minds which contain feelings, assumptions and social norms that ensure the words have a greater impact.

Trick the Brain

Using a word that has strong associations with something different can work well.  I have a popular pitch that starts “I cure piles”.  Everyone who hears it for the first time sits up and pays attention.  It always raises a laugh, but most importantly, it also ensures that I am remembered.

The reference to piles works because our brain uses shortcuts and makes connections based on what we already know, our lived experience, and the things we have been socially conditioned to expect.  Using a phrase that is more commonly associated with a different sphere makes people sit up and take notice because their brain has already made the most obvious connection.  If someone stood up and said “I shoot people for a living” what would you think?  Hitman?  Armed Forces?  Photographer?  When you do find out, you are going to remember what that person did for a living.

Become a Character

Our story-telling tradition includes characters and these are another convenient way to get your point across.  Create a character and explain how you solved their problem.  If you can also keep to a theme this will make the posts or pitches even more memorable.  It gives your posts a coherence that helps people connect with your content, search for the link, and look forward to reading, or hearing, more from you.

Long-form content can also benefit from this type of approach.  People are undoubtedly reading your content to gain insight into the subject matter.  They are also considering whether you have in-depth knowledge of your subject and may be considering whether you would be a good choice to work with them on a project related to the content.  There are a lot of long-form posts available, often on the same subject.  Injecting some personality into your posts, or taking a different approach to that of other writers can help your work, and you, to stand out.  As with the shorter form posts, clear and concise is the road to success.

Alongside my work supporting clients with administrative and organisational tasks,  I also help them to present their business effectively via the written word, whether this is routine emails and letters, documenting processes, or creating social media posts and blogs that effectively tell their business story.

If you are struggling to tell your business story, get in touch with me for a chat here.

The Art of Managing Change

The Art of Managing Change

Changes.  David Bowie wrote about it, and we all experience it.  Whether you find it scary or exciting, change is a fact of life.  The pace of change picks up with every passing year and the ability to successfully negotiate, and be flexible in the face of, change, is a critical business skill.

Changing your habits generally forms part of any change.  Habits take a while to change.  I did try to research this but there is conflicting information about how long it takes to form a habit.  It takes at least 21 days.  Many people say it takes longer.  It can take as much as 66 days.

Changing things not only takes time but it can also take real concentration.  So is it any wonder that things like changing a job or setting up a business are seriously challenging?  So many habits need to change at once.   In this circumstance it can be helpful to list the changes you want or need to make and then prioritise them.  Start with the first change and get comfortable with that.  Get that change bedded into your day to day routine before you take on a new change.

The same is true if you have a team of people.  There will be some who are more resistant to, or afraid of, change.  Introducing change slowly, or waiting until people are comfortable with the first change before introducing another one, is a great way to implement changes successfully and ensures that your team remain on board.    Not everyone can embrace change well and for some, even a small change can be very challenging and they may need more support to negotiate that change successfully without becoming stressed and upset.

Explaining the reason for change is also a key part of successfully steering a company through a period of change.  Most children hate those parental expressions, “Because I said so” or “Because I told you to”.  They would rather know why they must do whatever it is you are asking of them. So why, as managers, do we sometimes expect to keep our staff moving through changes without telling them why those changes are necessary?  Treating them like children who cannot be told the reasons for a change displays a lack of trust.   Not being open about things can lead to all sorts of destructive rumours as people try to guess the reasons why change is happening.  Destructive rumours can then lead to real dissent in the workplace, affecting relationships and ultimately productivity if the dissension becomes entrenched.

Where the change involves carrying out an activity or part of a role in a different way, it is very important to provide both face to face training and supporting documentation.  People learn in different ways so a mixture of visual and written information can be helpful in both the documentation and the training materials.    Providing a written crib sheet, step by step reminder sheets and similar can be very reassuring for people.  Many of us don’t want to keep asking for clarification and managers may not always be available to answer questions as they arise so crib sheets are generally welcomed.

Change can also arise due to the expansion of a business.  When a business expands very rapidly, it can seem as though processes and procedures can wait until the situation has settled down a little.  However, if you are taking on new staff but they are not sure of your processes, then they won’t work effectively, might feel unsupported and then might not stay with the company.  For these reasons, prioritising the creation of processes and procedures can be a great investment in your business expansion.  There are a number of companies who specialise in helping businesses to create processes and in the area of HR there are some excellent independent consultants who can deal with this side of the business expansion for you in a sensitive and time-efficient way.  I work with a number of HR consultants who offer this service.  They are experts in designing processes that protect your business and ensure your staff get the training that they need.

I work with HR Consultants and small business owners to save them time and money.  Part of my service involves examining admin processes and habits for small business owners, suggesting changes which will help them to have more time to implement their business plans, and of course, documenting these changes for them.  Get in touch if you’d like to find out more.

Accounting For Receipts

Accounting For Receipts

Receipts for business expenditure.  They are small and they often go missing.  Do you know where all yours are?  If you had to complete a tax return tomorrow, could you provide your accountant with a carefully recorded, tidily managed pile of receipts for them to work from?  Or would you have to hand over a shoe box or plastic bag full of documentation that has little or no organisation to it?

As a sole trader, finding time for all the varied tasks required of you in business can be a challenge, particularly if your business is booming and you have no administrative assistance.  However, the time it will take to unravel records which have not been kept up to date will be considerable at tax return time so it is worth having an ongoing system that will avoid you having to spend three days with your receipts spread out across the living room carpet, scratching your head and cursing the cat for walking over the piles you have created.  You could hand the entire thing to your accountant to sort out, but the bill would be quite considerable.  By planning ahead you can avoid all the pain.

Have a System

You don’t need a complicated system when you are first starting out.  A set of well labelled envelopes for the receipts and an Excel spreadsheet for the accounts themselves will do for many smaller businesses.

Every transaction has its own unique reference number and this should be written on the receipt and the accounts spreadsheet so they can be matched up easily.  Any transactions that will go through the bank are treated in this way.

Keeping it Together

Keep all receipts for credit card transactions together in one plastic envelope, ideally in date order.  Then, when the bill comes in, you can number every line on the bill sequentially.  It is then possible to match the receipts to the items on the bill, recording the relevant number on the receipt itself.  I find that it is credit card receipts that tend to go walkabouts, and by reconciling the bill in this way every month, you can more easily search out the errant receipt before it goes into hiding and, like Lord Lucan, is never seen again.

The settled credit card bill and its lovely set of numbered receipts can be placed in an envelope with the date marked on it, and filed with the rest of the receipts for that month.  Obviously when you have paid the credit card the transaction is entered on the accounting spreadsheet so the bank account remains correctly balanced.

Don’t forget your petrol receipts if you are accounting for these.  One client keeps these in the car in a small folder and then hands them to me every couple of months for recording.  If you get in the habit of putting the receipts in the same place each time this can make a real difference and massively reduce those awful “dig through every possible drawer to find that receipt” moments.

Finally there are those pesky online bills.  Don’t forget to enter these to your spreadsheet and either save them with a clear reference number (in line with your chosen naming process above) on a memory stick that you can send to your accountant, or print, add the reference number, and then file in the relevant envelope.

Still Need a Hand with those Receipts?

If you struggled to get the supporting information for your tax bill organised for the last tax year and vowed never to go through that again, why not get in touch?  I can help you to set up a process that works for you so that your accountant doesn’t hide from you during tax return season.