Is Your Home Suitable To Run Your Business From?

Running your business from home is a low cost alternative to hiring commercial premises to operate your business from.

But before diving in and taking the plunge it’s worth considering if your home is in fact a suitable base for your business.

If you haven’t already read our first blog in this series on the Pros And Cons Of Running Your Business From Home I recommend you go back and read it as it provides a good general overview of the benefits and drawbacks that you will want to consider in the first place.

This blog will talk primarily about the specifics of YOUR home and help you determine it’s suitability for running a business from.

First of all, there are three main types of businesses that I will talk about in this post.

A premises based business, this is a business where your customers or clients will come to visit you.

A client based business, this is where you will be mainly based on customers premises.

A virtual business, this is a business where you don’t really need to meet your clients at all.

Each of these businesses will have different needs and considerations.  You may find that your own business overlaps a couple of the categories and that’s fine, these are not hard and fast rules, they are more guidelines as to what could or could not be suitable in different circumstances.

You will need to consider the following factors no matter what type of business you run, though some of these may be more relevant than others to different businesses.

1. Location.

First of all, consider the location of your home.  This is most relevant for premises based businesses and client based businesses, less so for virtual businesses, though it certainly shouldn’t be overlooked.

If you are a premises based business where your clients will come to you, you need to ask yourself the following questions:

Is your address within a reasonable distance of your ideal customer?  Don’t just assume that people will be prepared to travel to you.  You have to make it as easy as possible for your customers to get to you if you want sales.

Check your home is in a suitable location

Are you in the centre of the area of your ideal customers? Are there good transport links to get to your location?  Is there adequate parking?

The nature of your business and it’s uniqueness will affect how far people are prepared to travel.  If you do offer something that’s truly unique your customers could well be prepared to travel a little further to get to you. On the other hand, if your customer would find other people doing what you do in a location that is closer and more convenient to them they may be tempted to go there instead.  People often make buying decisions based on convenience so don’t underestimate the location of your competition either.

Does your address match with the image of the business?  For example, if your business is in the high end, luxury sector, customers will most likely expect a high end address.  Before they even get to your address a potential customer could be put off by an address being the wrong side of town.

Is there likely to be a big increase in traffic of people visiting your premises and parking on the street?  If so, it’s possible that you may need to apply for planning permission so check on your local council website for further details.

If you are a client based business ask yourself these questions.

How far are you from your clients? How far are you prepared to travel?  Again, depending on the nature of your business, this could be something that could win or lose a sale for you depending on customer perception, even if they would never have to visit your premises themselves.

Close proximity to customers is a major plus point for many people, whatever type of business you’re in.  If you’re further away and need to travel regularly to your client’s premises, even if you know you can make the journey, a potential client can still be put off by you having to travel a long distance on the basis that you may not be able to make it at some point in the future.

Certain locations are synonymous with certain industries and an address in a particular location can build confidence, even if they never attend those premises.  (For example a doctor on Harley Street or a tailor on Saville Row.) It’s often worth considering the potential sales vales of a good address.

If you’re a virtual business, your address matters less, but it still matters.  Always go back to thinking about your ideal customer.  Would they be happy to pay money to a business at your address?

2. Your Premises.

Next, consider the premises themselves.  This may be your home and therefore difficult to look at objectively, but try to view if from a potential customers eyes.

Go outside your premises first of all. Imagine you are looking at your home for the first time.  Look at it, not as your home, but as your business.  Does it look presentable, well maintained and welcoming?

Your potential customers can be either enticed in or put off depending on the curb appeal of your property.  If it’s in a bad state of repair or overgrown with weeds you could find yourself losing business and not even knowing why if customers don’t want to knock on the door.

Approach the front door and walk inside the property, again imagining yourself seeing your home for the first time.  A customer is not going to see the whole of the house but look at the bits they will see.

 

As a minimum you’re going to have to have somewhere to speak to your customers. To make them feel welcome it’s always good to have somewhere comfortable for them to sit.  You’re likely to need to be able to make a drink for them, they may also ask to use the bathroom.  Make sure that any areas of your house that your customer would either enter, or pass through are appropriate.

Are you going to have a separate room that your customer that your customer will come in to or are they going to be in the main area of your house?  Think what your customer would reasonably expect to do on a visit to your business premises and ask yourself if your home fulfils that criteria.

Even if your customer is never going to come to your home you still need to consider whether the premises are suitable. Do you require just an office space, or are you perhaps making something?  If so do you have the necessary space to make the product, store your materials, any tools or stock?

 

The outside of your property is still important even if no one is visiting.  Many people will do a Google search on a business before making contact.  A photo of your premises on your business listing on Google goes a long way to building trust, particularly if you are a client based business or a virtual business.  Seeing the premises gives you credibility, the customer can see you are real, so use this to your advantage if you can.

3. Your Neighbours.

Whether you run a business from home or not, the importance of being on good terms with your neighbours can’t be underestimated.  When you do run a business from home good neighbourly relations are of HUGE importance.

A friendly neighbour will happily sign for packages and smile at your customers as they arrive.  A disgruntled neighbour on the other hand can be extremely obstructive.

When you are assessing your home for suitability, factor in also the neighbours and the impression they give.

You could keep the house in immaculate condition, but if your neighbours are blaring out music at top volume or having a full scale row, the chances are this is going to scare off potential clients.

Asking a neighbour to modify their behaviour is never an easy task, but if you are on bad terms with them to start with, forget it.  asking them to turn the music down when you blocked their drive the day before will never go down well.

You have to be prepared to give the neighbour the same courtesy you expect of them and if you’re running a business it’s really going to be worth going the extra mile to nurture that relationship.  Show them your appreciation.

If your business is one which makes a lot of noise it’s worth talking to them honestly about it in advance and seeing how they feel.

Say thank you

The odd little present or thank you card does a long way to help cultivate a good relationship and people are often more understanding if they feel appreciated.

 

4. Your family/the people you live with.

The decision to run a business from your home, if you share your home with others, is never one you should take by yourself.

You need to consider the implications running your business from home will have on the whole family, not just you.  Equally you need to consider the impact your family will have on your business.

Before you go ahead, sit down and talk with everyone about your business and give your reasons for wanting to run the business from home.  (See the Pros and Cons of Running Your Business From Home for some ideas to start with)

Tell them exactly how it will impact on them.  It’s important to tell it exactly how it is, warts and all and not to attempt to oversell it.  When reality sets in if the situation is worse than they were led to believe for the others around you this can lead to resentment of both you and the business.

Let them know what’s expected of them, i.e. not plating loud music between certain hours, being courteous to visitors, tidying up after themselves etc.  as with your neighbours, show them appreciation for everything they do to support your business.

A united family supporting your business can be a real asset, but a customer being met with an annoyed, scowling teenager can cause you problems.

Set out what you agree to do as well, for example, particular working hours and stick to it.

Be realistic about what you can expect from your family.

It’s a good idea to have regular reviews with the family about what’s working and what could be improved.  Be prepared to listen and take on board other people’s feelings, even if it’s not really what you want to hear. Constant communication is the key.  It’s important to be united, don’t let basing your business from home cause problems between yourself and your family.

So now you have a good idea whether your home is suitable to run your business from.  The question is now are you the right type of person to work from home?  Next week in the next blog in this series, we’ll be examining how to find out if you have the right personality traits to work from home and how to go about cultivating the right focus.

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pros and cons of running your business from home

The Pros And Cons Of Running Your Business From Home

 

Welcome to the first of a series of blog posts about running a business from home.

For the first installment, we’re kicking off with the pros and cons of running a business from home.

The Pros and Cons of Running A Business From Home

Before you decide whether running your business from home is right for you, you should weigh up the various pros and cons of running your business from home as opposed to an office or other premises.

Every business is unique, just as every home and premises is so give careful attention to all the contributing factors before you make your decision.

The Pros of Running Your Business From Home

1. It’s low cost.

In any business you always need to be mindful of costs and keep your overheads to a minimum.  Premises are often a significant expense for business owners  and running your business from home can cut that out.  Furthermore, you may even be able to claim expenses for it.

2. There’s no commute.

No getting stuck in traffic jams, no missing the train, no standing at the bus stop in the rain. You’re already there.  No time taken out of your day to get to work and no expense to get there.

3. It’s flexible.

You’re not tied in.  If you decide at any point that you want to move to another premises, you don’t have to give notice to yourself to move.  For this reason running your business from home can be a good temporary solution if you know that your business could be going through a period of change in future.

4. There are less distractions.

Although there are distractions at home, often these are things which are more within your control, for example less people walking in, likely to be less noise.

5. You’re closer to your family.

One of the reasons most people cite for working from home is getting to spend more time with family and improving work life balance.  Be sure to have guidelines in place though when you first start about family time and work time which everyone needs to stick to, otherwise this can end up on the list of cons as you’ll read shortly.

Combine work and family life

6. You can set your own schedule.

Not having a premises to go to often also means that you aren’t constrained by particular opening hours of the premises, so in theory you can adapt your own schedule to suit you.

 

The Cons of Running Your Business From Home

1.It can be isolating.

Running a business from home often means you are working by yourself. Depending on the nature of your business, you may go days at work without seeing anyone else.  Make a conscious effort to stay connected with people.  Arrange to meet people for coffee once or twice a week to keep up your social interaction, if you can combine it with a bit of networking so much the better.

meeting friends for coffee

2. You’re always at work.

Just as when you go to work you’re always at home, when you are at home you’re always at work.  It can be hard to switch off at the end of the day.  Set yourself boundaries just as you would if you worked in an office.  Have a clear dedicated work space, ideally in a separate room that you can close the door on at the end of the day.  If that’s not possible at least make sure you tidy your work things away at the end of the day so you’re not always reminded of a nagging to do list.  Have a set time to finish, leave your work behind as much as you can at the end of the day.

Sometimes when you work from home you never escape the office

3. You are less visible.

If you don’t have a premises that can effectively act as a shop window you’re unlikely to get business from people just turning up at your place of work. These days so many people carry out internet research before they buy anything so make sure you have an online presence.  List your business on Google My Business to help with your Google rankings.  If you don’t want to use your home address you can always use a virtual office.

4. It can put a strain on family life.

Ironically, although spending more time with the family is one of the most popular reasons for running a business from home if not managed properly running your business from home can actually put more of a strain on relationships and family life.  Communication is key here and making sure you are all in agreement on what’s going to work for everyone.  Also look out for our later blog post in this series on how to achieve work life balance when you work from home.

5. You can start slacking off.

Just as it’s possible to not switch off from work, it’s also possible to feel a bit too comfortable in your surroundings and begin to slack off.  Make sure you have a dedicated work space in your home to work from.  Train yourself that when you’re in that place, you’re there to work.  In this series there is another blog post coming on determining if you have the right personality to work from home.

Weighing up the pros and cons of running a business from home is definitely a good place to start.  Next week we’ll start by delving a bit deeper, the subject is Is My Home Suitable To Run A Business From. Sign up here to get this post delivered direct to your inbox to make sure you don’t miss it.

 

12 Productivity Tips for Work Wise Week

As you’ve probably noticed already, productivity is pretty important to us at Virtual Head Office.

Getting productive makes a huge difference to the success of your business, not to mention your stress levels.  Work Wise Week, which runs from 14th to 20th May 2017 is all about helping people to work smarter rather than harder.

When I was asked by QuickBooks to contribute to this graphic that they were compiling, I jumped at the chance.

Take a look here at the tips that have been compiled, not just from me, but a wide range of contributors and start implementing some of them today.

If all of this has you inspired to get more productive, then why not sign up for our FREE 5 Day Productivity Email Course?  CLICK HERE to sign up and start becoming more productive today

Productivity Tips For Work Wise Week

These tips will make a huge difference to your business productivity and definitely make your life easier, so I would recommend you make them habit, not just something you try out for Work Wise Week.

None of these things are difficult, you may even know some of these things already.  But are you doing them?  It’s one thing to know something but only actually acting on it will make a difference to your business.  Try and implement at least one of these things today and see what a difference it makes.  You’ll soon start seeing results.

Do you have any other productivity tips that you’d like to share?  I would love to hear them if you do. More often than not it’s the small tweaks that make the real difference rather than the huge changes.

If you’d like to join for our FREE Productivity Mini Course to get more idea for small changes that make a big difference then sign up now.

Outsourcing: The Ultimate Guide for Small Business Owners

Outsourcing: The Ultimate Guide For Small Business Owners

 

Outsourcing is the practice where companies large or small use resources outside of their own company to fulfill certain functions.  Small businesses in particular, who seek to keep headcount and costs down will tend to outsource a lot.  In fact, I’ll be willing to guess that you are probably already outsourcing at least one function of your business already.

Outsourcing is on the increase.  It’s no surprise really.  There has been  increase in start up businesses in recent years, combined with tough market conditions. Businesses are seeking to keep costs down and this has led to a demand for outsourcing. Add to that an increase in the technology which enables people to work from anywhere and share information. Outsourcing has become easier. This trend looks set to continue.

Why should you outsource?

It’s Low Cost. 

The number one reason businesses choose to outsource tasks is that it’s the most cost effective option.  The cost to a business of an employee on the payroll is high. As we as their pay, you will have to pay them salary, holiday, sick pay, National Insurance contributions and other benefits.  If that person works in your office you will need to have the space to accommodate them, a desk and a computer.  You may well also need to invest in training to keep their skills up to date in line with the changing demands of the role.

With outsourcing you will only ever pay for the work that is actually done.  Unlike when you have an employee during the quieter periods who is sitting there with nothing to do.  Typically when you outsource the person that does the work for you will just concentrate on one type of work, such as bookkeeping.  Concentrating on just one type of work means that tasks are completed quicker. For example just concentrating on bookkeeping, rather than trying to answer the phone and deal with enquiries as well as bookkeeping.

 

You utilise a specialist skillset for each task.

Using a bookkeeper for bookkeeping, a social media specialist for social media etc. means that you are utilising someone with a more in depth knowledge of their job. A specialist therefore performs better in their role than someone fulfilling a diverse range of tasks as they have learned their craft.  A specialist skillset therefore results in a higher quality of work.

Outsourcing Helps Build A Team of Specialists

Outsourcing frees up time.  

So you’ve started your own business, you’re an entrepreneur, but how do you actually go about fulfilling your goals for your business?  Whatever your business goals,  you need to keep a firm eye on them and spend time every day working towards those goals in order to achieve them. Sounds great in theory, but it’s not always the reality.  Often finding the time to focus on something you are trying to achieve in 5 years’ time can be shunted down in the pecking order to deal with an urgent deadline. Sound familiar?  If you’ve outsourced the task to someone else you don’t have to be bogged down by the mundane but necessary tasks.

It increases productivity. 

Everyone gets on with the thing they do best and what they are most efficient at. As a business owner you can concentrate on growing the business and driving it forward.

It’s a flexible solution. 

Some months you may find you utilise an outsourcing partner quite intensively, the next month you may find you don’t use them at all.  It can adapt to your business needs.

All of the above points are well documented, measurable benefits of outsourcing. Something I believe in addition, which is not so easy to measure is the impact on performance of enjoying what you do. 

Naturally delegating activities to other people frees up your time to spend on doing what you do best, what you enjoy and what you can earn your money from.  Imagine how you would feel about your working week if you were spending more of your time doing what you love.  Would this make you feel more positive and motivated about your working week?  If you answered yes, would feeling more positive also make you more productive and potentially more profitable?

Not only that, for the businesses that you outsource to, that particular task is their core business, and what they love doing. By outsourcing to specialists, you are freeing up your own time to concentrate on what you are passionate about.  You are also ensuring that all aspects of your business are run by those with both the skills, enthusiasm and motivation to do it. You are bringing enthusiasm you need to ensure your company is performing at it’s best.

 

 

What should you outsource?

Broadly speaking anything which is not a core activity of your business, however, you can break that down in to two categories:

Repetitive tasks:

This may include things such as data entry, book keeping, answering the telephone, credit control or other administration.  In other words time consuming tasks which prevent you from focusing on what is important. What is important for you as a business owner to focus on? Business owners should concentrate on profit generating core business activities and working towards business growth. Everything else can be delegated.

Specialised tasks:

This would include activities such as accountancy, IT support, web development, graphic design, HR or any activity that you don’t have the skills to carry out yourself professionally.  These are the kind of tasks that if you attempt to do yourself it would be time consuming to learn how to fulfil them. Furthermore, the chances are if your core skills are in another area you risk not doing a professional job.

To decide what to outsource first you can conduct an analysis.  Make a list of all the tasks that you are spending a lot of time on, as well as those which you feel are not being fulfilled properly at the moment and then seek out some help.

Consider outsourcing these tasks:

Outsourcing - 20 Tasks To Outsource

When should you outsource?

The truth is the time is different for every business.  Some may outsource from the start, bookkeeping for example is quite a common task to outsource from the outset.  Similarly, many businesses will outsource the development and updating of the website from the beginning.

For most small businesses, what tends to happen is outsourcing is something that happens incrementally as time goes on.  When you find that a particular task is taking up a lot of time and is getting in the way of more productive and profitable duties, then it’s time to look at outsourcing.  The trick is to see the progression of the amount of time spent on a particular task and find an outsourcing partner before you get too busy.  You need to plan in time to both find an outsourcing partner and then briefing them.  You do need to expect to make an investment of time at the outset with outsourcing, before everything can be handed over.

 

 

How to find an outsourcing partner?

Who do you outsource to?

Recommendations are always a good place to start.  Ask trusted business associates if they outsource any tasks and if they can recommend anyone.  If not, LinkedIn and Facebook groups can be a mine of information, as well as networking and of course a good old Google search. You can also consider using resources such as www.upwork.com and www.fiverr.co.uk.

Should you outsource services internationally?

This is a subject of some debate.  Undoubtedly there can be cost savings by getting things done overseas.  This does not necessarily mean that the quality will be better or worse.  There are things you do need to consider though.  For example, a VA in another country will be working in a different time zone. Does this matter to you? Some business owners like to be working at the same time to react to things throughout the day. Others like the fact that they go to bed and wake up to a ticked off To Do List.

Ultimately I would say it depends what you are planning on outsourcing and if it really makes a difference to that particular service. For example, you may be happy to have documents created overseas, but would like to have all of your calls answered locally.

How to get the best from the relationship when you outsource.

The single most thing in the relationship with an outsourcing partner is communication.  You need to communicate clearly, very specifically and honestly.

Never assume the outsourcer knows what you are thinking.  Give them the information they need to fulfil the task, but no more than necessary.

The most effective way to communicate the tasks is to have a very clear documented process for everything you need them to perform.  Don’t attempt to hand over any work until you have a system in place that you can hand over to someone else.

outsourcing and good communication

Make sure you discuss:

  • Exactly what they need to do and what the deliverables are.
  • The ultimate project deadline date as well as dates of any key milestones along the way.
  • How the two of you will communicate, i.e. will you have a weekly catch up to discuss progress? By email or phone? This is your opportunity to ensure work is staying on track and if there is anything you need to bring to their attention you can do it here.  Always be completely honest if there is anything you are not entirely happy with.
  • Price and payment terms.
  • Whether you would like them to sign a non-disclosure agreement.

Do you find it hard to let go?

Many business owners do.  It’s understandable. Your business is your baby. However, to grow your business, in fact for it actually to become a proper business and not just a job for you, you will need to delegate to others. Whether you are delegating to an employee or outsourcing if you really struggle with letting go, make that clear to the outsourcing partner from the start.

Outsourcing providers work with a variety of different people and they will certainly be used to being nervous about handing work over.  Tell them from the start how you feel, if you would describe yourself as a control freak make them aware right from the start, so they know that you need to be kept well informed along the way. It set’s the expectation from the start and results in a much better relationship from the outset.

 

 

How to develop specific instructions for your outsourcing partner.

Follow these steps to take each task and develop a process for it.

  • Break each task down into a series of mini tasks/instructions.
  • List each step of each mini task.
  • Use screenshots if possible.
  • Be very specific, i.e. include font, font size, image sizes, file formats etc.
  • Detail the frequency of the task, i.e. every Monday or last day of the month etc.
  • Attempt to follow your own instructions before you hand over. Do nothing but what is detailed on the instructions. Can you follow them and get the desired outcome? If not, add in more information until you can.

Effective Outsourcing Instructions

Working with an outsourcing partner will require some investment of time initially. You will need to both source the appropriate supplier and then properly brief them on the work that needs to be done.  You may find that at first you need to work quite closely with your outsourcing partner to ensure they fully understand your requirements.  This is time well spent though. If you work with them and provide regular feedback the outsourcers will soon learn.

Freeing up your time from low level tasks as well as those you don’t really have the skills to do enables you to focus on your core areas of business.  It enables you to push forward with working towards goals.  Done effectively, outsourcing can help you build a flexible, highly skilled team at low cost. Use it to free up your time to enable you to grow your business and your profits.

Take our FREE 5 Day Outsourcing Challenge now to become an outsourcing pro!

 

 

 

 

Self Motivation

Managing Your Own Motivation

There’s no doubt that whether you run your own business or not, one of the keys to success is having the right mindset and a huge amount of this is down to motivation.  When you run your own business there’s no one else to come along and gee you up, so you have to do it yourself.  This is not always easy, particularly if you’re going through a tough time in your business, but approaching managing your motivation as a priority will soon start to pay dividends.

The first thing you need to think about is exactly what motivates you.  You need to understand this fundamental before you can actually move on with motivating yourself.  This is something unique to YOU. Your key motive may not necessarily be the first thing you think of.  For example, a lot of people may say they are motivated by money, but dig a bit deeper and you realise it’s usually not actually the money but what that enables you to buy, be that the ability to spend more quality time with those who are important to you, perhaps it’s being able to afford that dream house.  Whatever it is that you dream of for your life, that is what you need to focus on.

The next step is to set yourself goals, both personal and business goals.  These goals need to be big, but at the same time realistic.  Think about where you want to be in 5 years’ time in your personal life.  What would you need to achieve in your business to enable that?  Once you have a long term business and personal goal, you then need to break these major goals down into smaller goals and milestones for both business and personal achievements. Read more about setting SMART goals and how to break them down into actionable steps here.

Every single day you need to understand why you are doing what you’re doing and how that fits in with the overall strategy.  Spending an hour out of your day today sending a marketing email may seem completely unrelated to buying that farmhouse you’ve always dreamed of, but if you understand how it fits in to the bigger picture and how these tiny steps will ultimately lead you to your goal then all of a sudden the smaller tasks feel a lot more exciting.

Creating mini milestones along the way is crucial.  These mini milestones help you to both ensure that you are on track with achieving your ultimate goals and are cause for celebration in their own right.  Decide on key milestones and what you should do as a celebration when you achieve them. Make sure you reward yourself properly.  These celebrations act as incentives in their own right to spur you on to achieve the next reward and the next.  They also drive you on and ensure you keep moving towards the ultimate goal as well as having some enjoyment along the way.  Uplifting moments that cheer you up have a massive impact on motivation, so allow yourself to enjoy your successes.

Whilst it’s important to keep progressing towards your goals it’s also important to acknowledge that there will be setbacks along the way, probably quite a lot of them.  Managing motivation when things are going well is one thing, but it’s a lot more difficult when things don’t go to plan.

This is where you really need to remember your ultimate motivation and why you are doing what you are doing. You need to understand the importance of overcoming the obstacle in front of you and how that will take you closer to your goal. The more you start to think in this way the easier it becomes to develop the right approach to these situations and deal with problems quickly.  Solving a problem, however small, can in itself give you a boost and feed in to your motivation.

It’s really important not to fear failure.  If you do this you will never move outside of your comfort zone and progress personally or professionally.  Thomas Edison famously had over 10,000 attempts at creating a lightbulb before he got it right, but in spite of these ‘failures’ he continued to innovate and still motivated himself. He considered each of his earlier attempts as another method he had learned of how not to make a lightbulb.

Having someone else to help you with your motivation and helping them with theirs is a massive spur on.  For one thing making a commitment in front of someone else about what you want to achieve is an extra incentive to progress and work towards your milestones.  Helping them to achieve success as well, or even just seeing them succeed and knowing it’s been part of them following their own plan is also hugely motivating.

It’s important that you surround yourself as much as possible with positive people who will also encourage, motivate and inspire you.  Try to steer away from negative people who will bring you down as they will certainly have a counter productive effect on your motivation.

The most important thing, as with most aspects of business is to get on and do it. Realising at the end of the day that you have taken another step towards achieving your goals will certainly compel you to do the same tomorrow.

Feel free to share if you know anyone who could do with a burst of motivation to help them achieve their goals.

Small Business Blogs

5 Small Business Blogs To Read Regularly

5 Small Business Blogs I Love

It’s nearly Valentine’s day so in keeping with the love theme I’m spreading the love and sharing my 5 favourite small business blogs.  These are in no particular order.

  1. Hubspot. I’m a big fan of Hubspot all round really, their free CRM is amazing, and through using that I found their blog. The blog is crammed with content on sales and marketing related topics and full of useful ideas to implement.
  2. Startups.co.uk. A useful website for all small businesses, not just startups. The blog is a useful collection of articles which range from tips and how-tos to inspirational stories from entrepreneurs.
  3. Businesszone.co.uk. Again a useful resource on a whole range of topics of interest to the small business owner ranging from law, finance, marketing, human resources and much more
  4. Google Small Business Blog. If you read my blog reasonably frequently you’ll often see me make reference to Google. Let’s face it, every business needs to get their website found by Google.  This blog, although not particularly regularly updated gives useful insights for small business owners to make the most of the various Google tools that are out there.
  5. Birds On The Blog. A blog written by business women for business women on a variety of topics in a friendly, down to earth style.

Are there any blogs you read regularly?

 

Improve Your Negotiation Skills

Improve Your Negotiation Skills To Get The Best Outcomes For You And Your Clients

Negotiation Skills

Inevitably in business you will need to develop strong negotiation skills.  As a small business owner it’s often the case that you can be perceived to be more flexible on price that perhaps a larger company would be. Sometimes this can be frustrating, but with a bit of practice this can become a good opportunity to demonstrate your value, secure the price you want and make your client happy to pay it.

  1. As with a lot of things in business, the old adage of fail to prepare or prepare to fail holds true.  Gather as much information as you can before the negotiation, this could include gathering benchmark data and thinking clearly about what you want to achieve from the negotiation.
  2. Think of how you can increase your value. It’s not always just about price.  What else can you offer that would increase the value to the client of what you do?
  3. Be confident. Know your worth and the value you can bring to your clients.  Never feel that you are in a less confident bargaining position.
  4. Expect compromise but know your limits. In a negotiation situation you can usually expect some compromise on both sides, but be prepared to walk away from a deal if it’s below your bottom line.  Really you should be looking for a win-win situation where you are both happy with the outcome and will therefore commit to it.
  5. Before you quote any price always provide a justification. Sell the benefits of what you offer and explain something of what goes in to producing it. This helps to counter any ridiculously low offers.
  6. Make the first offer. This is a controversial point but Adam Grant in his book Give And Take, argues that “every dollar higher in the first offer translates to 50 cents higher in the final agreement.” The reasons are that the first offer creates an anchor around which all future prices are based.  It also increases your perceived value.
  7. Never accept the first price you are offered. Not only does this mean you secure a better price or terms for yourself, but research has shown that the other party will also be more satisfied with the outcome if they have had to negotiate.  If you accept the first price they may believe they could have secured it for less and therefore not feel they have reached a fair deal.
  8. Give benefits in stages. Imagine finding £20 as you walked down the street.  This would no doubt make you happy.  Now imagine you find £10 and then later the same day you found another £10.  The outcome is the same, but research has shown that the second scenario makes people happier.  Therefore, in a negotiating situation separate out your benefits to increase the number of benefits and raise your perceived value.
  9. At the end of the negotiation ensure you have discussed and agreed on all terms.  Recap, make sure all parties are happy.  Give your commitment and recap on the next stages.
  10. Follow up. After the negotiation, it’s always important to follow up with an email confirming all the details of the agreement.  Make it friendly and reiterate that you are looking forward to doing business with them.

Put these in place.  This may take a bit of practice to perfect these skills, but working on your negotiation skills will not only stand you in good stead in business but in many other life situations.  As your confidence in your negotiating skills increases you will find your outcomes of negotiation becoming increasingly successful.

Let us know what you think and if you know anyone who would benefit from reading this please share.

Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro Technique: Tackle Difficult Tasks With Ease, Speed & Efficiency

What is the Pomodoro Technique?

The Pomodoro Technique is a time management and productivity technique, it was developed in the 90s by software developer and entrepreneur Francesco Cirillo.  Cirillo named the technique after the tomato shaped timer that he used.  The idea of the Pomodoro Technique is simple; take a large task and break it down into small tasks, or Pomodoros.  The method encourages you to work in short sprints, focusing your attention intensely for short bursts whilst taking regular breaks.

The only tool you will need to use the Pomodoro Technique is a timer.  There are numerous free apps and online Pomodoro timers, though Cirillo himself preferred to manually set a timer, believing that manually setting a timer showed a determination to get a task completed.

Firstly, break your larger task down into smaller Pomodoros.

Set your timer for 25 minutes.

Work on the task until the timer rings.

Tick off your Pomodoro.

At the end of this take a 5 minute break.

Every 4 pomodoros take a longer 15-30 minute break.

Each Pomodoro is an indivisible work task therefore, if you are distracted midway through, perhaps by a colleague, you will need to either save your work and postpone until later to complete that Pomodoro, or postpone the distraction.  If the distraction is in the form of another person Cirillo claims you need to “inform, negotiate and call back”.

Inform the other person that you are busy at the moment.

Negotiate when you will call them back and schedule this straight away.

Call back after the Pomodoro is complete.

It should be noted that a 5 minute break passes by pretty quickly so don’t do anything too absorbing or relaxing as you need to be ready to start again straight away afterwards. It’s a good idea to move away from your desk or work area, perhaps take a brisk walk or make a drink or check your social media.  Don’t do anything too mentally stimulating, it’s important that your brain gets the break to encourage creativity

Why the Pomodoro Technique works

The Pomodoro technique works because it enables you to address two key problems, namely task sizer and Parkinsons law.  It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when faced with a big task, but it’s not too difficult to motivate yourself to concentrate on a particular short task for 25 minutes. It therefore ensures you are taking steps and making progress towards the overall task.  Secondly Parkinsons Law, “work expands so as to fill the time available for it’s completion.”  In other words, you may have set aside a day to complete a particular task, but when broken down into short steps and making every effort to complete each in 25 minutes could mean that a task you would otherwise have spent all day on, could be completed in 3 or 4 hours, thereby increasing your productivity.

Benefits of using the Pomordoro Technique

There are numerous benefits of using the Pomodoro technique:

  • Increasing Productivity. A short burst enables you to get an individual task completed quickly.
  • Drastically cut down your interruptions.  By scheduling regular short breaks you are ensuring you are getting the breaks you need, but at the same time are still keeping disciplined. You become more aware of distractions and learn to manage them better.
  • It enables you to see clearly how much effort an activity requires by the number of pomodoros used.  This helps build a greater understanding of how long tasks take which helps to improve estimating of the length of time future tasks will take and therefore improves planning skills.
  • It’s very useful for working towards a larger objective and getting it completed more efficiently.
  • Ticking off each promodoro gives you a visual record of what you have achieved that day. This helps motivation, knowing that you have had a productive day.
  • Having a clear end time helps to delineate work time from free time and enables you to enjoy your time off more.

Try giving the Pomodoro Technique a go and see what effect it has on your productivity.  Remember to download our FREE Printable Pomodoro Planner to help you along your way.

Let us know how you get on.  If this is of interest you might like to read more on Time Management.

Please do share this if on social media, or with anyone you know who might find it useful.

Keep your focus when you work from home

How to stay focused when you work from home.

Working from home can seem like a dream come true, you choose your own hours, you don’t have to travel, you can be in comfortable surroundings. But sometimes the reality can be very different to how you imagine; distraction, isolation and either not doing enough work, or not knowing when to stop can all be components that turn the dream into a nightmare. Keeping your focus when working from home can be a challenge, but with a few simple steps it’s easy to stay on track.

Here are our ideas for how to make working from home a productive, stress free experience where you really do gain the work life balance you want.

  1. Create a conducive work space. If you don’t have the luxury of a separate office in your home then do at least work from a desk or a table, rather than the sofa.  It’s important that you have a space where you can sit up straight, set out everything that you need in an uncluttered environment.  Make it a pleasant environment to work in, clutter free, with perhaps a couple of pictures or personal items to make it an enjoyable space to work.  If you’re working from the table that your family will be eating around later that day, you also need some storage to be able to pack away at the end of the day neatly.
  2. Make others around you aware that you are working from home. It’s all very well having good intentions about working from home, but if others around you don’t realise that’s what you’re doing what should be a day at work can soon end up as just a day at home.  If you share your home with others it’s crucial they understand and are supportive of you working from home.  When you select your workspace you need to consider if the space you want to work at is a shared space which other people may want to use, if it is, you will need to get buy in, not only to use the space, but also that others around will respect the fact that you are working and not disturb you.  It’s not just the people you share your home with too, you may need to consider other neighbours and friends nearby who could see that you are at home and want to call in for a chat.  DON’T feel bad about explaining to them that although you are at home you are working but DO arrange a time to meet them for coffee so that you can take a break as well as fit in some social time.
  3. Stick to a schedule. Although this is something everyone should do, when you work from home it’s more important than ever.  If you don’t have a clear plan for your day it’s all too easy to find yourself putting on a load of washing, doing some dusting or tackling a DIY project that you’ve been putting off for months, not to mention being distracted by the TV, the dog etc.  Have a clear plan for what you want to achieve that day and properly plan the day.  Click here to get more ideas for writing effective daily plans.
  4. Take regular breaks and don’t overdo it. When you create your schedule it is important that you build breaks in to it. One of the nice things about working from home is that you can use your lunch break to watch the TV show that you recorded last night or to take the dog for a walk, so long as you keep disciplined on time.  Taking regular breaks actually helps you to become more productive, so don’t fall in to the other trap of working too hard as you will be less effective.  It’s also important to know when to stop at the end of the day.  In fact, whilst it’s a popular opinion that working from home is an easy option, the reality is often that you end up working harder, not knowing when to stop and never really getting away from work.  If you have a separate room in the house to use as an office that you can close the door on at the end of the day that’s ideal, but wherever you work, when you put together your schedule for the day decide when you are finishing and stick to it.  When you do finish if you’re not in a separate room, pack your things away out of sight so that whilst you are using your home as a relaxing home space you are not being nagged at by reminders of the working day.
  5. Try to fit exercise in to the working day. Exercise isn’t just about losing weight, studies have proven that regular exercise does improve work performance through a whole range of benefits which include elevating mood, improved concentration, sharper memory, enhanced creativity and lower stress.  Half an hour a day of exercise can give your performance a significant edge, and one of the benefits of working from home is that it’s very easy to fit in.  You could do anything from some stretches, a lunchtime jog, or even a brisk walk to help boost your mental energy for a challenging task ahead.
  6. Build in regular people time. The downside to working from home is that it can feel quite isolating at times.  Social media is both a blessing and a curse; it can be great to have that contact with people, but at the same time a quick chat on social media can quickly turn into an unproductive hour.  Better to arrange to have a phone chat or meet up with friends for a coffee at regular intervals to have real people contact.  Perhaps research if there are local small business networking events that you could go along to and meet people at and perhaps do some business.  Alternatively it can be good to meet up with someone else you know who is also working from home so you can talk about what is working well for you and if you are finding any challenges with working from home.
  7. Get dressed. Another myth about working from home is that you can spend the whole day working in your pyjamas.  I suppose in theory you could do this, but I would absolutely not recommend it.  The clothes you wear have an impact on your attitude and if you are sat there in your pyjamas you will definitely not be in the right frame of mind to achieve much.  You need to be dressed for work.  Although, you don’t need be dressed in a suit, make sure you are at least presentable to walk down the road and meet someone for a coffee.
  8. Keep your To Do List visible. Whether you write your to do list on paper or keep it electronically, make sure you can see it all the time.  Seeing what you still need to do before the end of the day spurs you on and it’s also motivating to see what you have crossed off the list too.
  9. Have water and healthy snacks close by. One of the distractions of working from home can be the kitchen.  Whilst you do obviously need to eat and drink regularly throughout the day   repeatedly getting up to the fridge can be a distraction.  At the beginning of the day get a large bottle or jug of water so that you can keep topping up throughout the day and a fruit bowl to help yourself from.  This saves you having to get up unnecessarily, also, if healthy food is in sight you are more likely to help yourself to this rather than be tempted by the biscuit barrel, which although you may get an initial burst of energy from, will certainly make you feel sluggish later on.  One of the other benefits of working from home is you can make your own lunch, which not only gives you a more varied range of options but is also cheaper.
  10. Focus on what you want to achieve. If you’re just starting out working from home, perhaps having come from a larger company environment, one thing you can miss is the buzz of the office and the motivational effect of this shouldn’t be overlooked. When you work from home, there won’t be other people around you to motivate you, you will need to do it yourself.  The good news is, when you run your own business and work from home there is a lot to feel positive and motivated about, but you will need to make sure that you regularly remind yourself of this.  At the start of the day, and at regular intervals throughout the day think about your long term business goals and why you want to achieve them.  Understand how what you’re doing that day fits in to the bigger picture and know that the end of the day you will be a little bit closer to achieving that dream.  Don’t just think about the buinsess goals themselves, but what they mean to you and your life, perhaps more time with your family or that house with the extra bedroom.  Thinking about these things and knowing why you’re working, gives you so much more focus and determination.
  11. Review at the end of the day. At the end of the day, look back at your to do list, see what you have crossed off and evaluate what you have done.  Congratulate yourself, you have worked hard, be pleased with what you have achieved and be pleased that you enjoy your working lifestyle.

Do you have any other tips to share with others about working from home? Perhaps you are finding particular challenges, please comment and I will reply.  Feel free to share this with anyone else who would find it useful.