A Productive Environment

A Productive Environment

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

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

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

Together or alone?

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

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

The Radio Debate

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

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

Space

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

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

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

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

Enthusiasm

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

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

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

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

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

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

12 Questions That will Increase your Productivity

12 Questions that will improve your productivity

Personality is an important part of your productivity style.  I touched on this last month when discussing the DISC profiling (check that out here if you missed it).  Another key part of your productivity style is the way in which you manage goals and time.  Unsurprisingly, both goal and time management are critical to your productivity.

If you want to be really productive, you need to ask yourself some questions and be honest with yourself when answering them.

Goals and Deadlines

1.  Do you find you are motivated by goals?  Most people are, but as Antoine de Saint-Exupéry famously said, “A goal without a plan is just a wish”  so you do need to have a plan in place to achieve the goal and that plan needs to be in a format that motivates and enthuses you.  So now we have to consider deadlines.  And more importantly, do deadlines motivate you or are you more like Douglas Adams who famously stated “I love deadlines.  I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.”

2.  If you are more like me (I work at my absolute best to deadlines) then setting yourself deadlines and breaking down plans into smaller chunks, each with its own deadline, will work well.  Non-urgent work tends to get put off if you are a deadline-oriented person, so it can help to set an artificial deadline.  Putting the deadline in the diary can help you to stick to it.

An accountability partner can really help with deadline management as well.  Particularly if you tend toward the Douglas Adam’s view of deadlines since you have to report back on your success (or otherwise) in completing the task.  In general, most people don’t like to report a failure so this tends to get you moving and increase your productivity.   Your VA can also keep you on track too, by reminding you of looming deadlines, or taking some of the routine work off your hands so that you can concentrate on the aspects that you love and are best at.

3.  Does a distant, or large goal motivate you and make you want to be more productive?  Or does it seem far off and something you can tackle later… Do you tackle that task eventually or really struggle to find it relevant when the deadline gets closer because you have now moved on to some new idea?

4.  Do you tend to get caught up in new ideas which take you away from the goal you were working on?  In other words, are you a fourteen ideas before breakfast kind of a person and struggle to complete them all (usually because another fourteen occur to you the next day) or do you tend to doggedly work on a few key ideas that you’ve thought through and feel will move the business forward toward a set goal in the most effective way?

5.  Finally, what motivates you?  Do you work fast to get finished so you can spend time with family?  Do you work methodically because you really want the thing to be completely perfect?  Are you motivated by what others think of you?  Do you need external validation in order to believe you have done a great job?

Time Management

Such a huge subject but you can boil this one down to a few key questions.

  1. Do you deal with things in priority order, or do you tend to deal with things on the basis of who is yelling the loudest about the deadline or task?
  2. Do you plan out your day, or tackle tasks as they come in?
  3. Do you like keeping a diary and marking out times to carry out certain tasks, or does this stifle your creativity and make you anxious?
  4. Do you find it easy to keep track of your activities and appointments and hate being late? Or do you tend to forget appointments unless prompted and need someone to deal with this aspect for you and ensure you are reminded of where you should be?
  5. Do you have good awareness of time? By this I mean, do you tend to get lost in tasks and not notice how long you’ve been engaged in them?  Or do you find it easy to keep track of time, always aware of how much time has elapsed?
  6. Are you more often than not slightly late for things? Or are you a stickler for being on time and tend to arrive a little early, or leave extra time for travel in case a UFO lands on the M1 and causes a tailback?
  7. Finally, do you thrive on being busy, or does it make you feel super stressed and upset if you have a lot of different tasks to do in one day?

Armed with the answers to these questions you have a much better idea about how best to track your day, divide it up (if that’s your preferred approach), motivate yourself to complete tasks and ensure you complete the right tasks at the right time.

Some of these time management challenges can be solved easily alone, others may require a bit more help.

For example, if you prefer to tackle tasks as they come in but are finding key tasks are getting left which is stressing you out, you might try to tackle certain key tasks regularly, perhaps daily.  Perhaps adding these to the diary.  You could then tackle other tasks, as they come in, fitting them around the key tasks.

If you are a person who tends to get caught up in routine tasks such as ensuring your emails and letters are perfect, or taking seven hours to write a blog, but you can whip through more specialist or client-facing tasks very quickly, then outsourcing the routine tasks and content creation might be a good solution for you.

Remember, you don’t have to do everything yourself.  An important element of time management is knowing what you should do yourself and what would be more quickly or effectively completed by someone else.

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

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

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

Your Productive Personality

Your Productive Personality; productivity

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

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

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

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

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

Personality Tests

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

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

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

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

Introversion/Extroversion

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

Information

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

Decisions

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

Structure

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

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

DISC Profiling

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

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

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

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

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

Meaningful Festive Gift Ideas

Gift Ideas Meaningful Gift Ideas Festive Gift Ideas

 

It cannot be denied that this year has led to catastrophic difficulties.  However, this year has also seen a raised awareness of the importance of community.  It has also increased interest in supporting those who need it and thanking those who deserve it.  Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who are in need at present.

This year, the gift ideas I’ve been asked to provide for clients have emphasised the personal, community and charitable to a larger extent than before.  I’ve been asked to source more unusual, locally produced, artisan and charitable giving gift ideas, in line with the new emphasis on community support.

Here are some ideas that will help you to thank clients and staff, or wish them a happy Festive Season.

Hand-Written Charity Cards

Many charities sell cards, calendars and small gifts and a percentage from the sale supports the charity involved.  Although the likes of MoonPig and Funky Pigeon are convenient, sending a handwritten charity card is a much more personal and thoughtful approach which will be very much appreciated.  Perhaps because of the time it takes to consider the message, write it by hand, and address the envelope, a hand-written card isn’t usually the first choice in business.  However, I encourage my clients to write cards by hand, or have me do this, and here is why.

When I worked for an organisation with a large team,  I persuaded my manager to let me send Christmas cards to everyone.  I wrote them all by hand, signed my name and then had the other managers sign them too.  They were well received.  The following year, the managers decided that signing the cards had taken too long.  They had a card made in the printing department, everyone in the management team signed it, and it was reproduced.  Unfortunately, this card wasn’t well-received by the teams as they felt that management didn’t care enough to bother to write the cards by hand.  A hand-written card shows more thought and care.  The fact that you’ve taken the time to do this is appreciated by the recipient.  Plus, who doesn’t love an envelope arriving in the post which contains something personal rather than a bill?

Shop local for small gifts to send to clients and staff.

If you can’t get out to the shops then look on Facebook and Instagram for locally based businesses who offer gifts.  You’ll be supporting your local business community at a time when this is very much needed.  Ideas include candles, food items such as pickles, brownies or cakes, locally produced artisan wine, spirits or, in the case of my home town, Gin.  There are so many really great options available when you look closely.  Alternatively, Not On The High Street and Etsy are both great sources for beautiful, unusual and quirky gift ideas, hand made with love.  There is something for just about every person you can think of.

Charity Initiatives

You may be working from home, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t have a fun charity initiative.

The MD could volunteer to wear fancy dress to your regular Video call catch up meeting in return for a donation to your nominated charity.

You could have a food drive with everyone donating what they can afford to the local food bank.

If finances allow, the company could offer to match the amount donated by staff so that your team can make a bigger difference to the chosen charity.

You could also make a donation to charity on behalf of each of your regular or key clients.  You could add this information to their (handwritten) Christmas card detailing the amount and the charity involved.  Using cards sold by the charity itself will further help your charitable cause.

Encourage staff to volunteer in the community.

Providing free time off for staff to do this will benefit your business and your team.  This type of initiative has a range of benefits including:

  • Making a real difference in your local community
  • Increasing mental wellbeing for the individual
  • Boosting the company’s social responsibility credentials.
  • Greater visibility for your business.

Gift Ideas that support your community

Christmas can be a particularly challenging time of year for those in need.  Sadly this year there will be a lot of people in this category.  If you manufacture something that could be useful then you could donate your product to charities who would benefit from that.  Businesses which produce something lovely or luxurious might offer the product as a raffle prize or a direct gift for service users.

For a service-based business, offering time pro bono to a charity is a cashless way of spreading good cheer.  Most will be very glad of volunteers and it is incredibly rewarding to know you are helping others.  Giving your time is one of the most valuable gifts you can give to a charity.

Looking for some help managing your festive rewards?  Look no further.

Wondering how you will find time to do all this?  Wonder no longer.

Whether you need someone with neat handwriting to write your cards.  Someone to source the right gift for each client.  Or some research to find out how best to help your chosen charity, I can help.  Which leaves you with the time you need to source the family gifts, make the Christmas cake or look after the business needs of your lovely clients.

Click here to buy some of my time so you can spend your own time better.

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.

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.

Business Processes: The Blueprint for Success

Business Processes

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

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

steps, steps to improve, steps to increase

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

checklist, GDPR checklists

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

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

business procesesses project planning project management

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

business processes project planning project management

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

VAVA Voom: Value Added Virtual Assistance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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