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.

Download your FREE outsourcing checklist now to help you on your way.

 

 

 

 

 

Crush Interruptions

Crush Interruptions Whilst Nurturing Enquiries

You’ve probably by now seen this clip of Professor Robert Kelly being videobombed by his two children during an interview about Korean politics, or one of its variations which have been spreading like wildfire on social media this last week.  (If you haven’t where have you been as this item has been EVERYWHERE!)

But if you haven’t seen it, I’ll summarise for you.  Professor Kelly is being interviewed from his office live on the BBC News on the subject of North and South Korea, a serious topic, when all of a sudden the door behind him opens and in marches his three year old daughter, dramatically swinging her arms and purposefully heading towards her father in the middle of his interview. The remarkably calm professor puts out his arm to block her from taking centre stage as he attempts to continue. As if this wasn’t enough, next appearing at the door is a baby in a walker, following in the path of his sister. Baby brother is shortly followed by Mum, clearly panicking, she hurls herself though the door, keeping low in an attempt to keep out of vision, hurtles towards her escapee children, who she then pulls backwards out of the room, closing the door behind them.

It has to be said that Kelly does an exceptional job of staying cool under the collar and keeps his composure to carry on through the rest of the report, but to just about everyone else who has witnessed it, it’s been a cause of considerable mirth. Undoubtedly one reason for this video going viral is the humour, but another reason for its popularity is that it’s something a lot of people can relate to on some level or another.

For business owners, particularly those who work from home, many of us can identify.  Although few of us are likely to be caught out like this on national TV, most of us have been in a similar situation on the phone, when perhaps a child comes in to the room, a dog barks, your neighbour starts working on a DIY project etc.  Whilst, we may, like Professor Kelly do our best to maintain composure in these situations, the fact is if it’s an important call your stress levels go up.  You’re concentrating on what the child is doing, praying that they’re not going to make a noise.  You’re trying to give a professional impression but you’re not able to focus properly on the conversation, and you know it.  On the flipside if you do give the call your full attention you ignore your little treasure at your peril.

We’ve probably all been in that situation where the phone rings and you think to yourself ‘dare I answer?’

I’ve felt this way myself on many occasions. As a mum of three boisterous boys, two dogs and two guinea pigs (!) our house is always a bit crazy. Part of being able to work from home and be close to family life is one of the major plus points, but it’s also one of the drawbacks when you’re waiting for an important call.

Using a telephone answering service means that your calls will always be answered in a calm, controlled office environment. There are no kids, no animals, no neighbours with a penchant for DIY or loud music.  You can be sure that calls will always be answered in a promptly by a trained, friendly, professional call handler, who is entirely devoted to answering calls and nothing else.

You need never miss a call again because you’re worried about the background noise, you’re already on the phone, you’re not in the office, you’re in the middle of concentrating on something important etc.

For small business owners, it can make a massive difference.

  • Improved time management,
  • Increased sales leads since you don’t miss any telephone enquiries
  • Giving a professional impression of your business
  • Providing great service
  • Improving work life balance

In addition, a telephone answering service is highly cost effective since you only pay for the calls that we answer.

As we’re on a mission to help small businesses succeed we’re giving you the chance to try our call answering service COMPLETELY FREE for 7 days. We don’t take card details and there’s no obligation to take it further.

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Know someone else who could benefit from a free trial? Feel free to share.

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?

 

Automate

Automate To Save Time, Be More Efficient & Improve Your Decision Making Ability

I often find myself blogging on the subject of saving time.  Hardly surprising when for many of us small business owners there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to cover the multitude of tasks we all have to deal with throughout the working day.  Most of these tasks are in addition to our core business.  We can end up spending hours every week on fulfilling some of these tasks.  For a business to grow you need to be able to spend time working on your business rather than in the business.

So once again I will find myself attempting to answer the question of how we can save time.

One thing I am a big believer in is automation. Automation is one of the biggest things you can do to save time during the week.  But there are additional benefits as well as saving time which give you even more reason to do it.

 

Why should you automate?

  • First and foremost it saves time.  Why spend hours doing something yourself manually if a piece of software can automatically do it for you?
  • It saves money if you are paying for people to carry out some of these tasks for you.
  • Eliminates user error – the more times something is redone manually by another person the greater the risk of an error being made.
  • As everyone has a capacity to make a finite number of decisions in a day, it improves your decision-making ability as you don’t have to waste brain power thinking about minor decisions.

 

What should you automate?

In short, as much as possible!  Here are some ideas to get you started.

  1. Social Media. Using a tool such as Hootsuite enables you to write multiple social media posts in one go, in one place and then schedule them. This enables you to write your posts in bulk and then save time logging in to social media on other occasions and getting distracted.
  2. Invoicing/Credit Control. Many accounting systems such as Kashflow or Xero will allow you to create invoices in bulk and create recurring invoices for regular clients in one go. You can also set up the automated credit control so that not only do the invoices go out on time, but your clients are sent reminders too.  This not only has the benefit of saving time, but ensures that the credit control process is followed to the letter and nothing is overlooked which will certainly help to reduce your time to get paid.
  3. Sending automated emails. Using the automation function within Mailchimp you can drip feed a series of emails to your mailing list.  Once it’s set up all you need to do is add the new person’s email address and it will do it in the background for you.
  4. Email templates. You probably find that you receive a lot of very similar email enquiries about your products or services.  If you haven’t already, automate this process by preparing some templates which can be tweaked accordingly and then sent in response.
  5. PC Backups. Instead of running these manually automate them.  If you are thinking that this wouldn’t save you any time as you don’t back up, then you need to put this in place now.  Losing your files would be a nightmare for most businesses, not to mention a complete waste of time, so make sure it doesn’t happen to you and put an automated system in place asap.
  6. Reporting. It’s always a good idea to check reports to keep a track of how your business is going, but all too often it’s the case that businesses are spending time manipulating one set of data getting it added in to another spreadsheet and changing the formatting.  See what you can do to automate this process.
  7. Blogging. If you have a WordPress blog they have a facility to schedule your posts for whenever you want.  This gives you the option to write multiple posts in one go and then publish them all in regular intervals.  This not only saves time, but also works well during times when you may be on holiday for example but want to keep a post going out each week.
  8. Frequently Asked Questions. If you find that you get certain questions about your products or services asked regularly one way to minimise the time you spend on dealing with these enquiries can be to create a Frequently Asked Questions page on your website.  This won’t eliminate all your queries, but will cut them down. The other advantage of having such a page on your website is that you can turn it in to an opportunity to further sell the benefits of your product or service so it may help to generate more business.
  9. File sharing. Having to email files between colleagues internally is a complete waste of time when you can use a service such as Dropbox to give everyone access to the information they need.
  10. Project Management. A lot of time can be wasted through communicating the same information to people at different times. Using a tool such as Trello or Freedcamp means everyone gets updated automatically on the status of a project.  So for example if Jane is waiting for Richard to finish his stage of the project before she is able to progress to the next stage with hers, she will automatically be notified.  Also is means that all the files and information is in one place, which can save a lot of time in back and forth email communication.
  11. Sales tracking. Using a CRM such as Infusionsoft or Salesforce will automatically remind you of what you need to do to keep moving your leads through the sales funnel.
  12. Website Traffic Tracking. If you have Google Analytics installed on your website you can request reports to be sent to you daily, weekly or monthly.  This is useful as it sends the information to you without you needing to go in and then spend ages looking around the website.
  13. Share calendars. I’m not sure if you would really class this as an automation or not, but I’ve included it because it saves so much time checking diaries with colleagues back and forth when you can just book something in there and then.
  14. Email signatures. If you haven’t already got an email auto signature then create one.  Typing your name and title each time may only take a few seconds each time, but over the course of a day and a week these seconds add up.  Not only that, a proper autosignature looks more professional and can also be used as an opportunity to highlight a product or service that you want to promote.
  15. Pay Bills. If you have bills that you pay regularly setting up regular standing orders or direct debits saves so much time each month making the transactions.  Ensure that you record all of these in your P&L though as it’s easy to forget you are paying something when you don’t actually see the money going out.
  16. Research. Google Alerts is a great tool.  It uses your search terms for your company, industry or competitors and monitors online mentions.  It them compiles them and sends them to you, either in real time or as a daily or weekly report.  This saves countless hours of trawling the internet yourself looking for information and ensures you are kept up to date with relevant information.
  17. Take payments. GoCardless will enable you to take direct debit payments from your clients. This saves a lot of time on credit control and ensures you get paid promptly.  It will also integrate with several online accounting systems saving further time.

 

The best way to tackle automation.

 

So there are some generic ideas, to implement and perhaps there could be others relevant to your industry.  The thing to remember is not to get fazed by looking at a list like this.  You can’t do everything at once. Concentrate on one thing at a time.  Automatation saves an incredible amount of time, but sometimes the set up process for an automation can be time consuming. Don’t be put off by this as in the long term this will reap benefits, but at the same time you can’t expect to get everything in place overnight.

Factoring in time each week to work on setting up each of these processes is a good place to start and work through your list.  As time goes on and you achieve more on the list you will find that you have more tasks automated you are saving time each day which can then be used to start other automation processes, work on growing your business, or simply take a well earned rest.

Do you have other ideas for automating processes in your business?  We’re always keen to hear of time saving suggestions so let us know your thoughts and ideas so what we can share them.

If you know anyone else who could be interested in reading this or any other blog posts please do share.

 

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 try and see what effect it has on your productivity.  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.

 

Six Simple Steps To Realise Your Business Goals

Six Simple Ideas To Ensure You Realise Your Business Goals.

Happy New Year!

Have you made goals for your business this year?  If you have fantastic, you’re already on your way to achieving them. If not,  it’s never too late to make some.  You don’t have to make them at the start of the year but there is something about starting a fresh year with a new set of goals and outlook that feels really positive.

If you haven’t already made any you might like to read my last blog post on planning the year ahead to give you some pointers.

So now you’ve made them you need to stick to them.  Here are my ideas for how to realise your business goals.

  1. First of all make sure all of your goals are SMART. (Specific, Measurable, Agreed Upon, Realistic, Time Based).  There’s no point making a goal if it’s not something that is practically achievable, also there is no way of knowing if you have actually hit it or how far off you are so make sure you’ve got this right first of all.
  2. Once you have your goal you then need to work backwards and break it down into measurable steps. This has several benefits. Firstly, it enables you to see clearly the path to achieving your goal. It also makes the goal feel more achievable if you look at it one step at a time.  Make sure you add a time frame to each stage.  This can help you evaluate if your ultimate time goal is realistic when you see how long each stage is likely to take.  It’s important that you make it realistic otherwise if you try to overstretch yourself to achieve the steps you will begin to fall behind and this can be demoralising.
  3. Find someone to be accountable to. Choose someone you can trust to be honest with you, whilst at the same time being quite non-judgemental and fair.  Ideally someone who also wants you to realise your business goals. Sit down with this person at key intervals, set out what you are to have accomplished by your next meeting and where you are today. Having someone you have to regularly check in with on the progress towards your goal is a good way of making you stick to it.  Telling someone that you have achieved everything you had planned to is extremely positive and spurs you on to achieve more.  Conversely, if it hasn’t been fulfilled, then having to verbalise it to someone else can help you understand why that may have been and if you could have done anything better.  If you have a colleague or business partner, then you could work together on this.  If you work by yourself perhaps you may know another business owner who you may like to work together with this on and each coach each other through achieving goals.  Alternatively, trusted friends, family members or partners can also be a good choice.  Another person may also have valuable input and an outside perspective is often a good thing.
  4. Create key milestones and celebrate when you achieve them. On the way to your ultimate goal there will be a number of milestones, each to be broken down into their own stages.  When you hit each of these milestones it’s important to reward yourself.  Decide whatever you think is appropriate, it could be a drink with those you have worked with to achieve the goal, perhaps an afternoon off indulging in a favourite activity.  Know what these celebrations are going to be at the start, as incentivising yourself to keep working through the milestones is leading you along the path to realising your business goal.
  5. Use a tool or an app to track your progress, there are a number out there but Trello and Freedcamp are a couple of free, easy to use solutions that will help you list tasks in one place, assign to tasks to different people and allow you to monitor your progress. It’s a simple way of keeping everything organised in one place and on track.
  6. Review your progress regularly, ideally every day. Make sure you fully understand the situation, what have you done to move forward and what still needs to be done?  Setting some time aside each day to look at this really helps you to stay focussed on your goals and trains your mind to start seeing other activities in terms of how they relate to your overall goal.

Putting these actionable steps in place will help you to stay focussed on your goal, motivated to achieve it and keep you moving forward constantly in the right direction.  You will realise your goal if you work in this way.

Let me know how you’re getting on with your goals and if you have any other ideas to help keep yourself on track I’d love to hear them.

Plan 2017 Now!

Plan 2017 effectively. Arguably the best use of your time between now and January.

Many of you reading this will be by now caught up in the madness of Christmas preparations, working through Christmas shopping lists, trying not to forget anyone.  Yet how many will actually be thinking ahead to Christmas 2017?  This might sound crazy, but put this in place and this gift to your business, will actually come back to benefit you too.  A well-considered and executed plan to be achieved within 12 months will not only push your business on to where you want it to be, but will also start to give you the rewards for your hard work.

To plan 2017 properly, first of all write down your goal for where you want your business to be by Christmas 2017.  Yes, this is one present you need to start searching for now.

You need to write this down somewhere and not just consider it. If your plan for 2017 is going to work is should be SMART.

If you’ve never heard of SMART objectives it stands for

Specific. (Well defined and clear to anyone who has a knowledge of the project)

Measurable. You should be able to tell how far away from completion you are and it should be obvious when you have achieved your goal

Agreed Upon. Everyone involved in the project must know this.  If this is just you by yourself, but you need to make a firm commitment to yourself to achieve this.

Realistic. Within the availability of knowledge, resources and time

Time Based. There should be enough time to complete the project, but not too much that you then slow down the pace.

When you have your goal decided upon and written down you then need to make a plan of how to achieve this.  You need to come up with a series of steps to break down what you need to do.

First of all you need to come up with a list of tasks and activities that will need to be accomplished to achieve your SMART objective.

You need to create a sequence for each of these activities.  You might find that some items on the list will obviously flow from one item to the next but others may be a little trickier to order.  Try to group similar tasks and activities together.  This makes sense anyway from a time management point of view.

You should find that when you have done this you have come up with a series of phases.

Use a project management tool such as Freedcamp or Trello to plan out your project.

Create milestones at the end of each phase.  Sometimes working towards a goal which is 12 months away can seem daunting, so if you have milestones along the way it helps you to know that you are on track and to celebrate your achievements along the way.

Each stage of the project must have a time estimate next to it.  This is where project management tools are very useful.

It’s useful to sometimes factor in a couple of extra days here and there for each stage.  Sometimes you will be dependent on other people fulfilling certain tasks and they may not react as quickly as you.

Plan this out carefully and make sure that each week at least, you are doing some small activity which is taking you towards your ultimate goal.

Then you have to do it.  It’s amazing how many well written and considered plans never actually get completed.  This is largely because people get overwhelmed with the scale of a project and sometimes they don’t feel that they are getting anywhere.

This is why it’s important to break the ultimate goal down in to small manageable chunks. That way each stage feels achievable. And when you complete a stage it’s satisfying to tick it off your list.  It’s satisfying to see the progress being made and that motivates you to continue.

Keep going.  Keep going until you have ticked everything off your list and you have achieved your ultimate goal for Christmas 2017.  If by next Christmas your work hasn’t already started paying dividends it soon will.  Do this one right and this is one Christmas present that you will be repaid for over and over.

Where do you plan on being with your business by Christmas 2017?  Please comment and let me know and feel free to keep me posted on how you’re getting on with working towards it.