5 Easy Ice Breakers to Use at Events

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If you’re in business, it’s a great idea to get out and about to meet fellow business owners. It gets you away from your desk/studio/laptop and you learn from others. Admittedly, when I started out back in 2004, it was no fun for me until I learned the following tips.

It’s so much easier now with social media so as I once wrote, use the internet to get off the internet! Here are the tips that work for me:

  1. Walk into a room smiling. Smile at everyone; the staff, the people you pass coming in just in case you see them later and everyone that's already at the event. A smile is the most inviting sign and people will gravitate towards you.
  2. Use social media to find out who you (vaguely) know that will be at the event and agree to look out for each other. Mentioning what you are wearing will help!
  3. Ask the host to introduce you to someone.
  4. Ask the first person you speak to introduce you to someone else.
  5. When you do speak to someone, a great conversation opener is ‘who can I can introduce you to?’ This doesn't just mean people in the room. You can connect them to your contact then and there via social media or drop them an email after the event. Another connection made!

If you have any other ice breakers, do share them below or vial @RickieWrites!

Five Ways to Be Effective

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!

5 ways to get productive
5 ways to get productive

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!

Reward yourself

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.

Free marketing

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!

By Rickie, who has been working with small businesses since 2004. Contact via @RickieWrites or @CraftySkills1

Coworking etiquette

Coworking is an excuse to work with other people for those who normally fly solo. As a aerial co-worker, here are my guidelines for perfect harmony.

  • Background noise is a plus of co-working, the energy is contagious, but if it’s quiet and you’re taking a long phone call, it’s a good idea to step away from the group for a while so as to not disrupt conversation or their work flow.
  • Similarly, if you need some uninterrupted time to focus, a subtle way of letting people know is putting some noise-reducing headphones in your ears, even if you’re not listening to anything. Just indicate when you back in the fold.
  • If you’re say you going to attend, turn up as people will be expecting you.
  • Make a point of saying hello to everyone, find out what their needs are and see if you can help or introduce them to anyone. If someone's helped you out, the simplest way of saying thanks (and making friends) is to offer to buy them a coffee!
  • Keep the place tidy and just take up the space you need and everyone will get along famously!

 By Rickie, founder of Birmingham Jelly who can be contacted via @RickieWrites

The Workable Alternative to NY Resolutions

As you may know, I'm a big fan of change when we need it, rather than waiting for new year's resolutions. One of the joys of being in control of your business is being able to change any time, be that your behaviour or something practical such as the way you operate or the product you sell. It really is great that we can change anytime and improve our well-being, happiness and our business just by making the decision.

  • If something is making you unhappy, change it as soon as you can!

Is there a supplier that's continuing to let you down? Or a client that is asking for more than is fair? Perhaps it's time for a gentle farewell leaving you time to find better suppliers and clients.

  • Getting too many emails?

Learn to love email again and start by unsubscribing to newsletters you never read.

  • Invest in your learning

Make time to learn new skills and increase your knowledge leading to new and better ideas. Is an hour a day too much? How about setting aside 15 minutes to read a book or newsletters. Or a Saturday morning dedicated to learning how to really use a new app or reading informative blog posts?

  • Say no

Time is precious! How about spending more of it on what you want to do?

So this year, try making changes whenever you feel like it. Or instigate one change on the first of each month.

I look foward to hearing how making small changes impacts your business this year!

Rickie has been in business for nine years and works on a one2one basis with micro businesses who want to improve their business skills.

The Good, The Bad & The Ugly of Out of Office Messages

What does your 'out of office' message say about you? We’re back soon!

This one says everything we need to know:

  • Reason for out-of-office
  • Duration that you’re away
  • If you’ll check emails at all ie once a day
  • When you are back and ready to respond

The permanent out of office

Can be good if you really cannot answer on a daily basis but really, is it good practise to avoid responding within 24 hours? If you must use, how about adding alternative contact details instead?

Out of Office on long after return

If your email system doesn’t allow you to set start and end dates for your out–of-office to be on, how about putting a reminder in your calendar to turn it off on the day you return? We know you’re back!

Lack of action point

  • What should we do if we can’t get hold of you?
  • Is there an alternative contact or any information?
  • Does your alternative contact know their name has been given?

Busy

  • We’re too busy to answer your email.

Great, so you don’t want my business then?

What’s your idea of a great out-of-office message? Do share it below or tweet us on @CraftySkills1

Making CoWorking Productive

If you work mainly on your own, co-working is a great way to exchange ideas, share knowledge and meet people. If an excuse was needed, it’s the perfect one to get out and have some banter! Here are our top tips to ways to make it fun and productive and be the go-to co-worker:

  • Plan your work for co-working days. What short, simple, tasks can you do that will withstand interruptions and background banter? Research, writing your action plan or goals or creating new website contact are great jobs to do with people around you to help. Or use it as a day to catch up on responding to and clearing all your emails.
  • Being able to brainstorm ideas in real time is enough to spur you on to take that new project forward. Now people know about it, they will be asking you for an update, encouraging you to doing it!
  • If you’re spending a few hours at the co-working venue, take your meetings there. It breaks up the day, stretches your legs and is an excellent opportunity to fit in those coffee-catch-ups with people who want to meet with you all in one. Bonus, you don’t have to go outdoors or make the coffee!
  • This is also the place to ask questions; need an app to help organise your time better? Someone here will know one and not only recommend it, but happily show you how to use it, saving you time and sealing a new friendship into the bargain.
  • Lock in to your tasks in hand and only get up to get another drink/lunch/bathroom break when you deserve it!
  • Coworking is a fantastic way of keeping abreast of business news, contacts and technology.

Moe information about the co-working event  Birmingham Jelly can be found here.

To improve your time-management skills and work productively, book a one2one and learn how!

5 Easy Ways into Twitter Conversations

Engaging with your audience

Be an expert

Become known as an expert. Comment on your chosen subect, post links and consistently talk about it. Mostly likely this will be aspect of your business. You are an expert in something so how about sharing your knowledge? You can do this through tweeting links to interesting stories or writing a brief blog and sharing that. Generally, if you see someone talking about your specialist subject, jump on and talk to them.

Hashtag conversations*

Be familiar with the hashtag and join in the conversation. It’s simply the easiest way to make friends and influence people. Tread with caution and choose your conversations carefully though, for no other reason other than it can take over your Twitter life!

*To join hashtag conversations Simply click on the hashtag (i.e. #craftybreak) and all the tweets will come up. A busy conversation will move fast so keep refreshing and jump onto the conversation when you have something to say by replying to that person. Or send a tweet as normal including the hashtag so everyone who is following the conversation sees it. To find hashtag conversations, take a look at @thechatdiary

Introduce people

Just like in real life, nothing beats being able to introduce two people who can help each other out. I even introduce people in that way when I meet them at offline events and both parties appreciate adding to their Twitter contacts.

Reply

If someone is having a good day, congratulate them, if they’re having a tough moment, help them through and if they need support, offer it. Again, just like in real life!

Retweet

The simplest way to make friends, is to forward on their message to your following. So if it’s worth doing, RT!

 

To learn more about using Twitter for your specific business, please book a one2one workshop.

Connecting: Making Friends in Business

How to love networking

If the word ‘networking’ fills you with dread, I sympathise with you.  Perhaps the word conjures up images of walking into a room full of suited strangers, all laughing and talking to each other and ignoring you. Or worse, people who you have no wish to know thrusting their business cards in your hand to sell you their product.

However, networking is really about connecting, exchanging information and building relationships. Getting out and mixing with other people is very healthy and essential to your business, if not your sanity.  I strongly recommend building an inner circle of people you can rely on and those that can rely on you and this is how you will find those you haven’t yet met through social media.

Business events

So here some tips on making these events productive, easy and fun!

  1. Realise that the people in the networking room are unlikely to be your customers. Phew! Once that pressure is off, you can relax, be yourself, have a big confident smile for everyone you make eye contact with and talk to many people. They may be suppliers, collaborators, know potential clients or they may become clients in months or years to come so go forth and make friends!
  2. Ask people what they need and most importantly, as you have two ears and one mouth, listen to them and see how you can help them and who you can introduce them to. Even if you are new to business, you are an expert at something and they will appreciate your advice. In my experience, this gives your both credibility and a warm glow!
  3. Have a few questions up your sleeve in case you get stuck for conversation. Something like; I’m thinking of changing my phone, what do you all recommend? Anyone used a virtual assistant? Printers, how do you find one that always works?!
  4. Avoid being that guy! Even if the person you are talking to is a little, how shall we say, dull, avoid temptation to look over their shoulder! Instead either stand with your back to people so there is nothing over their shoulder but a wall, so you concentrate or deliberately open up the circle where you are standing so it looks inviting for someone to join in the conversation. Alternatively, walk them across to someone you do know to introduce them. Keep productive while remaining a friendly networker!
  5. Coffee. This is what you have come for; to invite people out for coffee who may become one of your inner circle. Aim to find one or two people who you get on with and ask them out for a coffee. (It’s not dissimilar to dating, in fact) Arrange where and when or agree to email within a set time – say 24 hours. On that note, if someone promises to contact you in a set period of time and they forget about you, just think twice if you’d like them to be in your inner circle after all.

[box type="tick" style="rounded"]What are your top tips for making friends at business events? Please do add them below![/box]

Rickie is the founder of co-working event Jelly, co-hosts Likemind and is co-organiser of Birmingham Entrepreneurs. Follow @CraftySkills1 or join the business conversation on #CraftyBreak each Wednesday 1-2pm

More 4-Hour Workweek - Are You Productive or Active?

4-hour-work-week-book In this post looking at the 4-hour workweek theory, we look at the many tips for being productive.

One of my often used words is ‘focus’ and Ferriss is big on making every minute count and not creating tasks for yourself.

If [due to a heart attack] you could only work 2 hours per day, what would you do?

If you had to [with a gun to your head] stop doing 4/5 things, what would they be? Emails, phone calls, advertising, paperwork or my personal favourite, meetings. You can add Facebook to that although I eliminated that almost immediately after I started on it.

Do not multi-task is a hard instruction to stomach for the serial multi tasker but I do get it. Eat first, the do internet research – both become more effective. Similarly, only aim for one or two critical tasks per day and do them completely in one sitting, from start to finish, without moving on to anything else

I love the tips given to offer solutions rather than asking questions:

“Can I make a suggestion?”

“I propose…”

“I’d like to propose…”

“I suggest that..What do you think?”

“Let’s try….and then something else if that doesn’t work.”

These are probably phrases you use any way so it’s a matter of trying them at crucial moments when you want to take control of a situation.

Cut down on reading (ironic as I’m sitting here reading his book.

No newspapers scan headlines as he goes past newsstand. I’m with that one – I feel if I need to know something someone will tell me on Twitter. I do actually like reading and consuming information so most Sundays I will buy the newspaper (which takes me a week to read)

Only read how to books when it’s autobiographical. From now on that’s how I’m going to write my how to articles like that now – ‘how I did it.’

Elimination also means No news – I’ve subscribed to this for most of my working life but if you don’t – he says to go cold turkey for five days

Live on need to know basis – my mind is cluttered enough without filling it with info I have no need for.

Practice the art of non-finishing – a new one on me. I have picked up a few books that I’ve not bonded with, some I have finished and very few have I given up on and that’s mainly if the book goes into a subject matter I’m not comfortable with.

Batching. Doing jobs in batches i.e. emails, paying bills, laundry, shopping,

Virtual Assistants. Have multiple and try to use those organisations that have more than one person so you’re not stuck if they are not available. Give precise instructions (what is it for) and short deadlines. Make sure they can do phone calls (even if you think they are not necessary right now)

Niche market. Creating a demand is hard. Filling in demand is easier. Don’t create a product then find someone to sell it too. Find a market – define our customers, then find or develop a product for them.

So this is another way of saying my main customer theory – ask the customer what they want and give it to them.

Mr F suggests one way to find a niche is to look at magazines with audience of at least 15000 and advertising for under say £3000 and brainstorm what you could sell that audience.

An expert, in the context of selling to a customer, just means knowing more than the customer.

Or you can be perceived to be an expert (and of course become one overtime (4 weeks)

These days, having deliberately slimmed down to become a solopreneur, I want people to know it’s just me. However, when building a company, I think it’s good advice to have multiple email addresses (that are all forwarded to yours) and to have someone answer the phones (I had Miss Moneypenny who picked up the calls when we couldn’t)

Instead of asking permission, seek forgiveness.

Although irrelevant to me, his tips on (gradually) convincing your boss to let you know work from home are brilliant!

A brief version of a brilliant story; fisherman who fishes enough to sell & support family and give to friends then spends his days with his family, doing whatever he wants. Mr Harvard MBA sees this and gives him all the ideas to expand; fish more, buy boats, have employees, move to LA, possibly then to NY to run the now very large company. Some 20-25 years later he could sell up for millions. ‘Then what?’ the fisherman asks. ‘Then you can spend all your days with your family, doing whatever you want…..

And guess what, he’s advocates my beloved re-occurring mini retirement, something I have already done starting with a year out working a few hours per day including 6 months in New York for writing school. Then go and be somewhere else for 6-12 months then move on – something I very much want to do and my preference for it is in Vancouver.

Originally published July 2012