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.
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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.
Do you want to get paid on time
Sorting out collecting in payments due to your business really is critical as you will spend far too much time chasing outstanding payments (as you may already be finding) and your cash flow may be so adversely affected your business is put in jeopardy.
To make sure you get paid on time, follow these tips below:
Decide Your Payment Terms
Decide when you want to be paid and make this clear to your client. Don’t let the client dictate to you.
Depending on your business you may decide upon 30 days payment, 14 days, immediate payment or payment up front before any work is undertaken.
And you don’t have to stick to just one payment term for all your clients. You can amend them dependent upon who you are working with.
I have used a variety of payment terms in the past (and still do).
For my freelance work with large corporations that I have a good working relationship with, I work on 14 days payment due after the work is delivered. With business advice and consultations with individuals, I work on payment up front before any meetings take place. When I run my local workshop, I allow payment on the day.
For larger projects, you may consider splitting the payments and I do this when I release one of my more expensive courses. I ask for a percentage up front followed by 3, 6 or 12 monthly payments, depending on the type of course I am delivering and its length.
It’s your business, you know your cashflow (or you should!) and you decided what works for you.
Have a Contract
Once you’ve decided what you will be providing and when and how you want payment, you need to get this all written up in a formal contract that will be agreed and signed by your client.
Clearly state the payment details, what you will deliver in return for payment and what happens if a payment is missed or late.
Personally, I add a late payment charge into my terms and conditions and make it clear this will be automatically added to the client account if payment is not received within 48 hours of the due date. I also add that all work will cease until full payments have been received. I put in an explanation that this charge is to cover administrative costs in chasing payments and for not adhering to contracted terms and conditions.
Once you have your contract written up, make sure all details are included such as your name, business name, contact details and client details. Sign it, date it, send two copies to your client and ask them to do the same before returning one to you and keeping one for their own records.
When I first did this many moons ago, I was afraid this may put off potential clients. I know realise this is one of the most sensible things I have done as if anyone does not agree with these terms, I don’t want to do business with them. Paying clients are what I want, not freeloaders.
A contract also helps should there ever be any query about a payment in the future as you can both refer back to the agreements that has been signed by both parties (yes, you must get them to sign before you start any work!)
One of the easiest ways to administer collecting payments is to use accountancy software. I personally use FreeAgent where I have all my payment terms laid out and once a contract is agreed, I create recurring invoices to be sent on due dates. It is also possible to send reminders prior to the invoice due date to remind clients to pay and to automate unpaid invoice reminders.
On each of these reminders, I highlight the fact that a late payment will be automatically added should the payment not be received. This relieves me of having to send individual emails to clients and the yucky feeling that can sometimes be felt when chasing payments. It really is a huge time saver.
After having a few late payments and introducing this system, I have only ever had one defaulter.
Below are a number of different financial software solutions for you to have a look at. There will many more out there but this is a small selection to consider. Yes, there is a cost to these but if it saves you stress and gets your payments in, it will be well worth it.
Package prices start at £19.99 + vat PCM. I heard so many good things about this that I just had to to switch to it myself and now don’t know how I ran my business without it. I just love it. If you want to use it you can get a 10% discount by using this link
A free option for just one client. Package prices start at $19.99 PCM
Pricing starts from £5 + vat PCM for sole traders. Has add-on features such as CRM.
Pricing starts from £9 PCM. A simple calculator to see which package is best for your business.
Pricing starts at £9 PCM for up to 5 invoices. Lots of add-on features
Use the tips above and save yourself time and stress of getting those much-needed payments in and make sure you get paid on time
Do you have any tips of your own on how to get paid on time? Share them in the comments box below
The Small Business Christmas Checklist
Use this small business Christmas checklist so you can tick off all those tasks and have the break you deserve with family and friends.
Firstly you need to decide your last working day and the day that you will return. Next create a checklist of all the tasks you need to complete before the Christmas break. Consider the following:
- Outstanding work
- Stating the obvious, note any outstanding work for customers or clients
- Calls you need to make or emails to send
- Sending invoices and chasing in any outstanding payments due
- Paying any invoices owed
- Writing and scheduling newsletters and blogs
- Scheduling social media posts
- Customer contact
- Sending Christmas cards, email messages or gifts to selected clients
- Send an email to all customers and clients letting them know your availability (or not) over the break, how to contact you in an emergency (if relevant) and the date when normal service will be resumed.
- Set up your emails with an out of office message with the same information as the last point.
Now grab your diary and block out time just prior to the break to complete these tasks. I tend to completely block out the week before Christmas to have a mop-up of all these tasks and to deal with any last minute emergencies.
The very last task you want to do before finishing for your Christmas break is to put an out of office message on your phone and mobile, again, saying the date when normal service will be resumed and how to contact you for emergencies (if relevant).
Next set out some time in your diary either prior or during the break, or at the latest immediately in the New Year to do an end of year review. It may not be your year end accounting date but I always find the end of a year is a good time to have a recap on how the business is performing.
End of year review:
- Review the past year, make a note of what worked and what didn’t.
- If you sell products, do a stock check. What sold well and what wasn’t so popular. What will you plan to sell more of next year and what might you consider dropping from your product line?
- What are industry trends and have they changed? Do some market research to see what predictions are for the New Year.
- Review your outgoings and costs for the past year and consider where are savings can be made (it can be quite amazing how many subscriptions etc creep into our business that we stop using and never cancel or paid advertising that isn’t getting results)
- Set your goals for the forthcoming year
- Prepare your marketing plan for the forthcoming year
Now go take that break! Give your friends and family the time they deserve with you. Make sure you have time with them where you are completely switched off from work. Remember to make memories, not just money!!
DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE CHRISTMAS CHECKLIST HERE