As you probably know, I decided long ago to live a stress-free life. For Stress Awareness Month, the people at Intuit are sharing top productivity tips to help small business owners. Here are my personal tips to help you achieve a stress-free life.
I wish someone had told me this 12 years ago! Whether it’s a walk outside or putting the washing in the machine (for all of the homeworkers), a few minutes away from your screen works wonders. It’s amazing how the perfect sentence of that tricky email pops into your head when you come back to your laptop.
Complete the most difficult thing first
Try to complete it before 9am or whatever time your industry sector starts their day. This way, you can enjoy the whole day ahead having already achieved your best accomplishment. Also, you may well do the less desirable tasks faster so you can get onto the fun, creative ones.
Do something every day towards your goals
Break down any annual goals to monthly ones and then do at least one thing towards them every day. When time is short, this could be as brief as phone call or a quick email to get a conversation going.
Each day undertake 5 small tasks, 3 medium and 1 large. How big these tasks are on any particular day will depend on how long your day is but each day, you’ve potentially achieved up to 9 tasks that take you nearer to reaching your monthly goals.
To keep focus, schedule the tasks into time slots. When your time is up for that particular task, stop and move onto the next one, regardless of whether you finish it. I guarantee pretty soon you will start completing your tasks quicker. Or else, you’ll realise how some jobs take longer than you think and you’ll schedule future tasks accordingly.
I started the list with a break and end it the same way. Working breaks are great for undertaking projects or just clearing the to-do list without the pressure of completing tasks for clients. You’ll come back refreshed and raring to go with a clear head.
If you can’t spare the time for 2-3 days away from home, try a day trip to another city and visit a few different coffee shops to work in. A change of scene can be as good as a rest.
Galleries and shops are a great way for makers to gain exposure by having their work displayed and potentially sold. They need quality stock in their shops that they can sell at a profit and by having your products on a sale or return basis, it eases the burden on their cash flow.
Here are my pointers for SUCCESS in selling your products to them:
S ubscribe to their emails – find out everything you can about them so you know when to approach them, how and what you can offer.
U nderstand they receive lots of inquiries so do your research before you contact them so you can sound knowledgeable.
C ompetition – you are competing with hundreds of artists so always be thinking what makes you stand out? Your service, packaging, delivery promise, follow up or simply the product?
C reate – make sure you have enough stock of the products you promoting to the galleries. Or if bespoke, just make sure you have a variety of products for them to choose what they would like to stock.
E xplore who will stock your work regularly. What a great excuse for a day trip to the seaside and rural little towns that so often have gift shops, coffee shops and little galleries that will sell your work.
Find out what they stock and if you build a rapport, approach the owner there and then. Or at the very least leave a card and/or small sample to leave and contact them within 48 hours.
S ocial Media – while you’re engaging with potential direct customers here, also learn about potential stockists who can be wholesale customers. Making friends and supporting others is the fastest route to success here.
S ales – after all of that hard work, take action. Call them and use the famous AIDCA technique to find out who their audience is, what they need and can give that to them.
When you are buying services for the first time, it's easy to be dazzled by suppliers. So here is my guide to what you - the customer - is looking at:
Hosting – No more than £6-12 per month, probably less, especially if you pay annually
Creation – From £250 for a simple 5 page website (i.e. home, about us, services/products, contact, testimonials/case study). Expect to pay more if you need the web creator to come up with some of the wording and images too. Up to £500 for 10-12 page site.
Domain (including email address) - £2-12. Be sure to purchase both co.uk and .com versions to prevent anyone else from having your name.
From £100 for logo design which will probably include adaptation for business card or website banner if you brief them correctly. Add a bit more if you want to include some generic flyers too.
Social media management
Around £75 per month for several messages a day, 7 days a week including several engagements per week. Add more only if more than one platform managed, i.e. Twitter and Facebook
I recommend you to take this over yourself once you have mastered the platform, or at least bring it in-house when you have an employee. This allows you to be more spontaneous and to jump on opportunities and generally be personable with your engagement.
The more organised you are less your accountant will cost. It can be less than £250 per year if you're a sole trader or around £600 per year for a limited company. It will be potentially more if VAT registered or payroll involved.
Add VAT to theses prices - accountants tend to be VAT registered!
If you have any trouble finding suppliers who will sell you their services at around these prices, please email me. I'll introduce you to those trusted people who will!
October 1st 2016
It is twelve years since I left the corporate world to start my own business. About 12 years and 6 months since I made the decision to do so, for the simple reason that employers who shared my standards of customer service were becoming rare.
Looking back, so much has changed since 2004, especially with digital advances:
Email was not used widely in 2004 and people expected a landline phone number. If I wanted things to move quickly, it had to be done by phone. Now I just include my email address and Twitter on the business cards that rarely get used and just part with my mobile number if someone needs it.
While the internet had been in the mainstream for a few years, businesses didn’t automatically have a website. I had one created before I launched as I felt it would help me look more established. For the last few years of course, I’ve been creating my own and updating it frequently. It's a shop window to your business and therefor essential.
Vat threshold was around £60K. Now it’s £83,000. When I started, a credible business was expected to be registered to have the appearance of an established business. Happily I did reach the threshold in the first year so I reaped the tax advantages. Nowadays, freelances deliberately stay underneath the threshold to keep their prices minus VAT.
Similarly, a Limited Company and an office was required to be taken seriously and that worked as I found I needed to employ people within six weeks of starting in order to expand. Soon after I discovered virtual addresses and could ‘pretend’ to have offices around the country. It was some years though before I could outsource to Virtual Assistants and then freelancers, alleviating the need to employ people.
Which in turn, negates the need for offices which I would like to think I’ll never use again. I refuse to even have a desk at home; my tiny tablet-come-laptop takes up less room than the latest book I’m reading.
Around 2005/6 I want to a Chamber of Commerce event (they used to be relevant then) and saw a prototype tablet for the first time. It blew my mind. It was by Sony – everything was then. At that time, I imagined the future possibilities of being able to read from my tablet even when standing on a train rather than struggling to get my big HP laptop out.
Although the term social media was yet to be heard, we did have Ecademy - LinkedIn is the closest comparison today. I spent the first 30 minutes of my day making friends with 10 people via Ecademy, the maximum it allowed before charges. Ecademy didn’t follow me around with notifications on my phone like social media does today.
The starkest change to my life was the Blackberry. I had a Nokia smartphone first. I’d had Nokia phones since the early 1990s and for me, Blackberry smacked too much of US socialites messaging their hairdressers and dog walkers. After a year of hit and miss messaging, I made the switch and remained loyal to Blackberry until the apps I needed just didn’t come to the BB.
I always said I started a year too early. If Blackberry was in the mainstream in 2004, I may never have had to pay for telephone answering services, as many staff and offices.
I’d have a Blackberry today if they had everything I needed, only partly out of fondness of the little black gadget that released me from offices and enabled me to work from anywhere in the world. And that I did - still do.
Today, we can start our business from a phone, alert the tax man online and design our own brand on Canva followed by a website on Squarespace. We can keep all of our finances on Wave – even if we do have an accountant and do most of our marketing from our armchair or coffee shops.
When I was out for meetings in the early days (I used to have them in those days) I'd carry my big laptop around and find a hotel with internet access to plug into and work. They offered terrible little cups of expensive coffee that went cold in 1 minute. I don't think much has changed in hotels but Coffee Republic came along to every high street and changed everything. I am still loyal too to them - a a big fan of the founder - for helping to make my days better.
Now independently owned coffee shops are everywhere and welcome me and my little Surface laptop to work for as long as I please, for the price of a coffee or two.
It’s a good time to be in business.
If you’re starting a new business or want to build your reputation, the most economical and quickest way is online. This is where you will build a solid presence for your product or service:
Do you have control over your domain and can you use the name across the main social media platforms you are using? If someone has bought the domain for you (i.e. website builder) be sure you are the only person that has the log-in details that give you full control. This will mean even if you lose contact or they go out of business, your name and brand stays intact.
Ensure you have the basic pages right at the start:
Contact – including links to your social media platforms and also plenty of opportunities for people to contact you any which way.
The ‘search’ button is more important than ever
Case studies, testimonials and potentially a blog can be added later when you're ready.
Then ensure your mobile site is just as good as your desktop version,
Be sure to be consistent, relevant and topical and include an image or a link with every post across your platforms. Engagement is more important than number of followers. Be sociable!
If blogging, keep your posts consistent too with a low word count (less than 500) and plenty of images.
More than just a logo, your brand is the first impression your business makes. It’s like walking into a room and coming across as knowledgeable, enthusiastic and helpful – before you say a word. So, before putting this out there, gain some insight into how people will perceive you by asking friends, colleagues, associates – even your social media following on what they think of your brand.
Email is still king – it’s how your customers expect you to communicate with them.
Always use your professional email address – the one with @yourbusinessname - and a compact signature that links to your social media, blog and website.
If you have any questions about any of these, please drop me a line with your question here.
And other learnings from the Internet Retail Expo 2016
A highlight of my year is when I go and learn about the latest methods, technologies and trends at the Internet Retail Expo. As you may know from my tweets, it is the only business event I attend all year, other than the ones I host each month of course (Likemind and Jelly). Once again, there were some outstanding sessions delivered by experts who work with some of the UK's best known retailers. I learn so much to share with clients.
How to speak to your customers on the toilet
For me, this session won the best title of the event! Lead by M&S, who say 75% of people admit to using their phone in the loo. For some, that's the only time to catch up on communications! Schuh maintain that 89% of people with a smart phone, only shop on that device.
Email is still king. Despite engagement on social media, it is the preferred of communication for customers. It's where people expect you to be.
Who is building apps now?
A session by My Supermarket gave the insight that 63% of people just look at the website on their phone, rather than an app.
Although 29% of the country still doesn't have a smartphone, in another session, Schuh highlighted the importance of getting the mobile site as good as the desktop version.
I know that on many platforms, the mobile site is automatically formatted, including Squarespace, which I use to create easy to maintain websites for clients.
Powerfully connect with clients
How long do you spend scanning content on your phone?
Facebook say it's 1.7 seconds. That's all the time we have to get our message across, hence organisations are now making short 2-3 second films just to get their brand recognised. This is easy for the makers amongst us and with a little thought, we can create this for every service too. It makes sense to have them without sound.
Also, I learnt why the search button is more important than ever, the latest on marketplaces (Ebay/Amazon) and payment methods and how Sparks helped M&S Customers shop twice as often. Find out about next year's event here.
Complete one important task before 9am
I am a big fan of easing gently into the day with some simple tasks first. It is more satisfying though to complete something vital that sets up a great day.
They eat a great breakfast
Eat breakfast after you’ve completed your first task. If you really need breakfast before you open your laptop, how about rewarding yourself with coffee after you’ve hit the first big task, or splitting the most important meal of the day into two halves, before and after the mission is accomplished?
Ensure their phone is on silent
To focus on the task in hand without interruptions, laptop and phone notifications are turned off. They are only switched on when waiting for an important communication. Otherwise focussed people concentrate on the task in hand and respond to messages two or three times a day, morning, noon and night.
Write their short to-do list
Focussed people like to see what smaller tasks they need to undertake each day so they can succeed in achieving their larger goals. Use something like the 1-3-5 method (1 large, 3 medium, 5 small tasks every day) to stay focussed.
Read their goals
Before any of this, they check on their goals for the month (or the week, quarter). They add something to their task list, no matter how small, that will get them closer to achieving major goals.
You can hit a target you can see!
Do contact me to let me know what you do first thing to stay focussed on @RickieWrites or please email me.
There are subtle differences to running a business and being a freelancer, as I can testify having started working for myself with the former but becoming the latter five years later.
1. Work when you want
Where you want and with who you want and at your own pace. You can work during your best hours – be that early morning or late at night, rather than 9-5.
2. Only need to make enough money
There are no board members/shareholders/colleagues telling you to grow the business and make more money.
If you can make what you need to have a lovely life in 3 days, why work seven?
3. Clients are collaborators
These are the people you partner with, work together for the best results. You give an amazing service to your clients and they will recommend you to others.
4. You want to support others
Sharing the love and recommending other freelancers for work means everyone succeeds. It's a lovely family to belong to.
5. You get more done
Working independently means never having to commute, listen to water cooler gossip or get involved with office politics.
6. You always want to work
Because your to-do list always has great projects to work on.
You look forward to holidays because it means a change of scene and enjoying the fruits of your labour rather than getting away for a week.
Similarly, if you love what you do, why will you ever retire?
Call time!Give yourself a deadline for each task and once the timer goes off, switch over to the next job.
- Plan your day, or whatever time you have, for the important tasks
- Give each task a time slot
- Include time slots for social media, emails, finances, telephone conversations and other essentials depending on the requirements of your business. I tend to check in with emails every 2-3 hours.
Needless to say, turn off phones/email/social media notifications during this productive period. This will give you absolute focus and you’ll have lots ticked off your to-do list. Promise!
To give you an example, here’s one of my laptop based mornings:
Urgent tasks will always get done so try this method for important projects, all those items on your to do list that you know will help grow your business in the long-term that get pushed to the bottom. Bring them to the top and watch your business grow!
If you finish early, try to move right on to the next one without distraction. Place any unfinished tasks into the next ‘productive period’.
Mix it up
Blend what you love with the vitals.
We love what we do but there are always joyless tasks to do. For me it’s anything to do with finances!
So how about mixing up the tasks? After you’ve completed a less enjoyable task, follow with something you relish. It will sure make you complete that first task faster too!
Work out what’s best for you; some people like to get all the tough assignments completed on one day, others like to just handle one a day and spread them out, but do alternate them with those you love.
Share the load
I’m a big fan of beg, borrow or barter. Is there a fellow business owner you canteam up with and swap tasks? Perhaps one person loves excel spreadsheets (where are they?!) and another prefers the joy of designing posters or the creative work on websites?
The result is two happy people who have the fun of doing the tasks they love and helping another business grow! A beautiful friendship is formed!
Whether it’s a coffee after a tough morning on WordPress or a new tablet to celebrate a major new client – presents are good!
More often it’s the simple pleasures of a good biscuit with your coffee or a hot lunch. Whatever keeps you going, have that as your own personal enticement to get those tasks completed.
Social media is in the main, free to use so it’s obvious we are all going to use this as part of our marketing strategy. Planning the times you set up your messages and engage with your potential customers is key.
The big tip here is to use a social media platform such as Hootsuite or Tweetdeck. These allow you to schedule messages♦and have multiple accounts on one platform so you can see and manage at a glance.
♦Of course, as I always advise, use scheduled messages with caution as people like to see that you are available to engage with after you’ve published an update.
Do you already use any of these? Do share your thoughts by adding your comments below!