Sometimes, when you realise your industry is becoming saturated with competitors, stop trying to fight against them and think how you can turn this into an opportunity.
I always remember meeting the founders of The Soap Kitchen many years ago when the husband and wife team were starting up from their dining table. Over the years, their business grew as did their competitors.
Instead of fighting against them and getting consumed with worry, they looked at the opportunity this presented. They decided to adapt their business model. Rather than continuing to just making soap, they started running workshops teaching their competitors how to make soap. But taking it further, they also started supplying them with the raw materials.
The business exploded and four years ago they moved from their beautiful, but humble dining table to a shop and separate large warehouse with more than 20 staff. It is now the leading DIY soap making supplier in the UK and Europe.
Today I met a lady who offers a service and has been met with a similar problem. She is in the holistic health and wellness industry and it seems like every other person and their dog is now entering this. Her competitors are growing daily.
She recognised she was having to work harder but not seeing any increase in profits so came to see me. Rather than getting in a fluster, she went through everything with me and we soon realised a golden opportunity right under her nose where she could help others entering her profession. She could teach courses on how to get the level that she had reached.
Create opportunities out of problems
Rather than looking at helping her competition adversely affecting her, she saw the opportunity to create more income. This would also raise her profile in the industry giving her business visibility. She would now be integrating with competitors rather than trying to avoid them.
If you’re struggling with competitors, consider what hidden opportunities are out there for you. Don’t let your initial panic make your blind to these. If you’ve been in business for a while, and other new faces are appearing, take advantage of this . See how you can help them whilst creating a new income stream for yourself.
You might surprise yourself and find you enjoy it whilst significantly increasing your profits.
Outsourcing business tasks can really take the pressure off you when building a business and can help you save time and grow your business to the next level.
However, it really saddens me the number of times I see women trying to build their own successful home business and taking the step to outsource some work, only to be ripped off.
I constantly hear stories, where an agreement has been made only to find that very little of the work needed, is completed. The person hired, basically tries to do a runner with the money. So many times, freelances who promise the earth quickly lose interest or are unable to do the work to the standard required. Rather than admitting their inadequacies and refunding monies already paid, they start to ignore emails, phone calls and Facebook messages.
The person hiring is left with a looming deadline, out of pocket so financially unable to hire someone else and in a sense of abandonment and despair.
Please, if you are going to hire a freelancer, do a few things to protect yourself from the same happening to you.
Agree to Terms and Conditions
Whenever outsourcing any work, before you do anything else agree clear, WRITTEN AND SIGNED, terms and conditions. This needs to include:
- the scope of the work with exactly what is going to be done by whom and when (including any information you need to supply to the freelancer),
- a deadline for the work to be completed,
- how much it is going to cost and
- what happens if either party is unhappy and wishes to cancel.
Do not rely on word of mouth and trust. So many times, agreements have been verbal as a person has seemed so wonderful and the relationship has been on trust, only for it to go horribly wrong. I have known ladies feel embarrassed about asking for T’s & C’s. Really? You are running a business and you need to protect it. If anyone tries to fob you off saying you don’t this, run for the hills.
Read reviews and testimonials
Read their testimonials and contact some of the people who have written them to make sure the reviews are genuine. Yes, it’s a sad world we live in that some people make them up.
Interview them. Yep! You are hiring someone so it’s perfectly ok to speak to them and conduct an interview. Ask them what they would do if they had an emergency and couldn’t complete the work on time. Ask them how many times they have had cancellations or had to refund a client. You can tell a lot from whether they answer quickly and confidently or start to pause and stumble over their words. Listen to your gut feeling when speaking with them.
Start with a sample piece of work
Consider asking anyone you are outsourcing work to, to do a small sample piece of work so you can test out their standards and service. Don’t expect them to do this for free but pay them for a small section of the project that you need help with.
Pay in instalments
Pay in instalments. Don’t ever pay in full upfront. Agree on stage payments. That way, if something starts to go wrong, you can stop your payments until the situation is fixed. Alternatively, you can cancel the agreement altogether (again, make sure this is covered in your written contract.)
Look at payment options
Think about how you pay. If you use PayPal if there is a dispute, and you can prove your case, you should be able to get your money back within a reasonable timescale.
In essence, take time to do your research before hiring anyone and use the checks above before signing on the dotted line and handing over your hard-earned money. I’ve been bitten myself in the past, so I am speaking from experience. It’s horrible when it happens but it makes you much savvier when hiring in the future.
Do you have a story to share on your own experience? Leave a comment below. I would love to hear about it whether good or bad.
Are you aware that having the wrong email address could be losing you business? And no, I don’t mean wrong as in misspelled.
So often, I come across someone whose business I like the look of, I go their website, love what I see and go to the contact page. And therein lies the problem. Their email address ends in @hotmail.com or gmail.com.
But why is this a problem?
It makes you look unprofessional
Firstly, it makes you look unprofessional. Your website may give out all the right signals but can be instantly let down by an amateur email address. Whenever I see one of these email addresses, I instantly change my impression of the company and don’t view it in such a professional light. If you have a specific domain name for your business, use this for your emails also.
You may be viewed as spam
Secondly, if you are sending emails with a @Hotmail, @Gmail or similar, there is a much higher chance your mail will get blocked at the other end. Many companies have blocks on these emails as they have a high chance of being spam. You don’t want to be tarred with the same spam brush, do you? If I ever see an email come in from a Hotmail or Gmail account from a business, I simply delete it.
You are missing a marketing opportunity
Thirdly, if you use a specific email address ending in your domain name when you send out emails to contacts they may just become curious and check out your website. Another simple way of helping drive traffic to your site. I’ve done this before with people I have been in contact with and then become a buyer. It’s a no-brainer!
If you don’t have a professional email address, go set one up now. Usually, you can get one free through your domain provider and it’s not difficult to set up. And if you are afraid of having to check in to different email accounts for both your personal and business emails, you can simply forward your emails to one single account.
Remember, it’s the small things that can make a big difference.
TIME MANAGEMENT TIPS
It is far too easy when running your own business and trying to do everything yourself to find yourself feeling overwhelmed and crushed by the mountain of tasks demanding your attention. The accounts need updating, bills need paying, the marketing needs doing, quotes need chasing, meetings need to be booked and all of this before you even start on the core of producing your product or providing your service.
All too often small business owners find themselves working 15 hours a day, neglecting their family and eventually reaching burnout through sheer exhaustion.
But it doesn’t have to be like that. Once you accept that your to-do list will never be fully completed you can start to plan and prioritise the big things and let the small things go. You need to understand that time management is not about getting everything done. It is about figuring out how to get more of the right things done with the time you have.
So here are some tips:
Plan Your Day/Week/Month
If you’re going to be productive, you must create some sort of structure to your working day, week and month. Block specific times out in your diary for dealing with those tasks that keep getting pushed down the list but are too important to ignore completely. Block off the first Monday morning of every month to reconcile the accounts. Use the last Friday afternoon of each month to analyse your marketing and plan what you are going to do for the next month. Block out two hours midweek each week to follow up past contacts or quotes.
Treat these times blocks with the importance they deserve. Do not let other things push them out the way. You can plan this either in a paper diary or schedule on your online calendar, so you get a reminder. This will put you in a feeling of control and stop you worrying you are going to miss something.
When structuring your day, week or month, create a list of things that need to be done.
A daily list should have no more than three key items that need to be achieved. This does not mean you have to stop working when these three items are completed but it will help ensure the top priority items get completed first. And you can choose a fun task from your monthly list when you have completed your daily tasks which will help keep you motivated.
Once you have completed your daily list, have a look at your weekly list and pick something else from there that needs completing. Do the same with your monthly list. If a particular task seems too huge, break it down into smaller chunks as mentioned before and create a number of subtasks to get it completed.
At the end of each day, prepare your list for the next day. If nothing urgent and important with an impending deadline shouts out at you, one trick I use is to put a red dot against each item on my weekly list as the days move forward. If I get to seven dots, I either put that item as a priority for the next day or make the decision the item is not really that important and delete it. You can always move it to an ongoing list if you wish and then put another colour dot against it for each week that goes by and use the same principle.
By sorting out your next working day the evening prior, it will help you to relax and sleep better by knowing your next day is all planned out.
Set out your working hours
When you run your own business, there may creep in the temptation to start a little earlier in the day or finish later. Whatever hours you want to work is up to you but set up a routine of working hours that suits you and your business.
Treat it like a business and start and finish at the same time each day. Ensure you take a lunch break for at least 20 minutes and get some fresh air in this time if you can. I promise you will be more productive by taking this short break than if you work through thinking you haven’t got time to stop.
By having set working hours you can focus more clearly on what needs to be completed by when rather than thinking you can do it later and ending up working into the late hours of the night.
Have the right tools
You need tools to keep track of what you must do. Trying to keep everything sorted in your head will result in failure and lead to massive stress.
- Calendars As mentioned above, by putting tasks into an online calendar which will send you a reminder when it is due, you remove the stress of trying to have to remember it.
- Emails If you have more than one email account, synchronise them into one place so that you don’t have to keep logging in and out of different accounts.
- Project Management Software Use task management software to organise your documents and keep a track of tasks pending and completed and how a project is progressing.
- Customer Relationship Management (CRM)If you only have a few clients, a simple spreadsheet may do but have a look at a simple CRM system such as Capsule. These help organise your clients, hold all their notes, emails and documents in one place and set your follow up tasks.
- Accountancy software Hate balancing the figures at the end of the month? Always get in a muddle? Try software solutions such as FreeAgent and Freshbooks that look after your invoicing and expenses and balance your figures with your online bank account. There is a small monthly cost for many software solutions, but these could be well worth the expense (approx. £19.99 pcm for FreeAgent) if it saves you hours of time and stress. It will take time to get your head around some of these systems, but start slowly and simply and you will soon end up wondering how you ever coped without them. And many systems integrate with each other, so you always have access to all your information in one place.
Big tasks can seem so overwhelming that you just don’t know where to start. Think of the adage ‘How do you eat an elephant?’ The answer, one mouthful at a time. And it is the same with your work. Break it down into bite-size chunks or baby steps.
If you have a task that you think is going to take you hours to complete and think you just don’t have the time, set an alarm for just 15 minutes and make a start on it. You may just surprise yourself with how much you get done when the pressure is off to complete the task all in one go.
Focus on one task at a time
Multi-tasking is not always the best way of being productive and is when mistakes tend to happen. It can be far better to focus on one task at a time and get that over and done with. Turn off any distractions for important tasks such as your phone and close those social media tabs! Set your time and get going. It is far more therapeutic to see whole tasks being crossed off a list than just doing bits here and there with nothing ever getting fully done.
Outsource what you hate
Have a look at those tasks that are building up the red dots and still sitting on your list. Is there a pattern or any similarity between them? Mine is always the financial tasks. I love being creative and being with my clients. I hate sitting down number crunching and cross-referencing. So, go get someone else to do it for you. Someone with a passion for numbers can get my books up to date in a couple of hours where it would take me days to truly get to grips with it. Outsourcing things you hate may cost you a small amount of money, but this will make up for itself in getting those things done to free up your time doing what you love and making sales.
Prepare for emergencies.
Life rarely goes smoothly and the unexpected happens to put us off track when we least need it. You feel like you have everything under control and then your dog gets taken ill and must be rushed to the vet. You have a load of documents to print-ready for a workshop and your printer decides to stop working. The school phone because your child has been involved in an incident and you need to go and talk to their teacher.
So, have a contingency plan up your sleeve. Prepare for the ‘what if’s’. Just having an emergency plan in place will give you so much peace of mind. Try to keep a few hours free in your diary each week to plan for the unexpected. This will give you a few precious hours to help get yourself back on track with your tasks. And if you don’t need to use this time for an unexpected event, use it to either do a task you enjoy or even to take a couple of hours for yourself to relax and recharge.
Try these time management tips and see if you start to work more effectively.
Do you ever have days when you have so much to do that you simply don’t know where to start?
That feeling of paralysis creeps in and you feel like crying. It’s all so simply overwhelming. Two hours later of shuffling bits of paper from one place to the other, re-writing to-do lists and five cups of coffee and still nothing has been achieved.
A while ago I came up with an idea that has helped me enormously when I have been faced with this predicament.
Grab yourself some index cards or post-it notes.
Write all your things to do on these cards or notes or even small pieces of paper. Now stack these up in order of priority. Remember to think about looming deadlines and which tasks are going to make you money when prioritizing them. Now take the top item and do it without looking at any of the other items underneath. DO NOT stop until you have completed that top item, then you can move on to the next.
If you have a particular item that is going to take hours (or days!), break this down into smaller chunks. Say you have to write a programme or finish a study module. Write down all the components of this. If you are studying it could be something like
- Read chapter one
- Complete actions on chapter one
- Submit answers on Chapter one
Give each of these items a card of its own.
If writing a programme it could be
- Plan subject matter
- Map out headings
- Source information
- Source images
- Plan module 1
Again, give each item a card of its own. This way you can intersperse large tasks with smaller ones to break up the monotony.
It’s all about taking control and not letting yourself get overwhelmed. Once you have a plan, no matter how simple, you will feel more in control and know that you can manage what you have to do.
If you like this idea and find it useful, let me know in the comments below.
Concord Record Card Smooth 127x77mm Assorted Ref 16099 [Pack of 100]
Post-it Notes, 76 x 76 mm – Energetic Colours, 6 Pads (100 Sheets Per Pad)
Do you suffer Bright Shiny Object syndrome?
You know the feeling. You are in the middle of something, maybe doing some research on a project you are working on. And then you see it. First a little twinkle out the corner of your eye. And then it turns into this wonderful bright shiny object that simply demands your attention.
We’ve all been there. And this Bright Shiny Object is the best thing since sliced bread. Until ….. you see another one. Oh, what to do. So many shiny things to chase after!!!!
Now, these distractions can be just for a few minutes. Even in this situation, you are going to lose so much time trying to refocus on what you were originally working on. But the worst case is when this takes you down a new track and you leave your old plans unfinished.
The danger point is that you keep chasing new things and never actually complete anything. Therefore, you never get the results you set out to achieve and so the vicious cycle of chasing another BSO continues.
Here are my three top tips to help deal with the distractions.
Determine your end goal
Firstly, what is your end goal? Keep looking at your plan and make sure that everything you do takes you towards to your goal, not away from it. It is too easy to get side tracked and led astray so by referring to your plan on a regular basis you can make sure you keep on track and focused on what you ultimately want to achieve.
Yes, you are bound to get caught up with other ideas as you grow your business, but if you keep stopping and starting something new, you will never get anything finished. You will end up confusing yourself and ultimately, your clients!!
Commit the bright shiny object to paper
Whenever you have a new idea pop up, write it down. Have an ideas book or board. Pop everything on here. And then sit on it!! Wait for a few days at least and then come back to it. Does it still look so attractive? Are you still fired up by it? Is it going to take you closer to your end goal or is just a distraction?
Make a date in your diary
If you decide you still want to go ahead with it, don’t start until you have finished what you were working on before this new idea came up. Your old idea will have been important enough for you to start on, so make sure you complete that first. You may just find that when you have completed what you were already working on, you have found yet another bright shiny object and so your last idea has lost its attraction.
Focus on one thing at a time, do it, and do it well. Then you can move on to the next.
Do you suffer from BSO syndrome? Share with me in the comments below.