Everyone’s idea of the best use of their time is different. However, regardless of industry, most small to medium sized businesses have the same goals and challenges.  For example, when first starting out, they have a mutual need to do pretty much everything from sales and marketing to accounts and admin. Therefore, pretty early on, time management will be key in how successful your business develops.

Here are our top tips for being more productive and managing your time in the most effective way:

1          Schedule

As with all successful processes, the key is in the planning.  The easier a process looks, the more likely a lot of work has gone in to setting it up.  Planning your time is no different. Keep a diary and ensure you’re realistic about what you can achieve.  Block out time in your diary for content creation, business planning and exercise alongside appointments and calls.  With so many virtual meetings around, ensure you specify a proposed meeting duration.  For instance, if you’re having an intro Zoom call, book it for half an hour.  This will save any confusion, clarify expectations and save you time.  Likewise, inviting meetings to be booked in specified meeting slots via a calendar on your website means no unnecessary communications.  Additionally, it leads your contact to where you want everyone to be – your website! 

2          To Do List

Some sort of to do list is crucial in ensuring nothing gets forgotten.  However, it’s equally important to be clear on what you intend to do with the list.  For example, if you’re just going to add more and more tasks to the list and not tick anything off, the result will be only one thing – stress!  There are so many programmes and apps to keep you on track with your tasks and projects such as Trello, Todoist, Slack and Asana. Just try a few out and see what works for you best.  If something pops in your head, write it down and let it leave your mind. Even at night, having a list by your bed to jot down a note can really take anxiety out of having a busy schedule.

3          Prioritise

It’s crucial to prioritise every task on your to do list.   For instance, if you have an ever-increasing list and just start at the top, you’re not making the most of your day.  Take a moment each day to be sensible about what is the most important task to get done.  There’s a phrase, ‘eat the frog’ following the idea that if you get the worst task done early in the day, you don’t spend time thinking and stressing about it.  However, it’s also critical to get that sales invoice done and submitted before you pore over some tricky content creation.  So, it’s about using logic and being practical too.

4          Stop Procrastination and Distraction

Procrastination is the worst thing for good time management.  Thinking about all the reasons why you need to delay completing a task means you achieve nothing.  Much better to fail at something, learn from it and do it again than do nothing at all!  Another issue which can have a disastrous effect on time management is the complete opposite of procrastination – distraction.  I love the term, ‘shiny things syndrome’, whereby you start a task and then get distracted by something completely different and it is very common.  Those who suffer with this habit like to feel they’re multi-tasking. However, the truth is that multi-tasking isn’t great for effective time management.  Self-discipline with a good focus is the solution.

5          Delegation

In order to ensure your tasks are done in the minimum amount of time and therefore at minimal cost, the art of delegation comes into its own.  Delegating and outsourcing tasks such as bookkeeping, social media management and other more administrative tasks is a great way to make sure you focus on what you do best.  Working on your business to bring the money in whilst you delegate the more routine tasks is a great way to grow your business and keep on top of your time management.

PC Keyboard Short Cuts

PC Laptop keyboard

Keyboard short cuts are crucial for a touch typist but hugely useful too for any PC desktop or laptop user. 

Here’s a list of useful 8 basic shortcuts for Microsoft Windows, Word and Excel.  

Microsoft Windows

Alt + Tab  –  Switch between open applications 
Alt + Esc  –  Switch between applications on the taskbar 
Alt + F4  –  Close current open program 
Ctrl + F4  –  Close window in program 
Shift + Del  –  Delete programs or files permanently 
Windows Key + M  –  Minimize all windows
Windows Key + SHIFT + M  –  Undo the minimize done by Windows Key + M 
Windows Key + L  –  Lock the computer 

Microsoft Word

Ctrl + A  –  Select all contents of the page
Ctrl + B  –  Bold highlighted selection
Ctrl + C  –  Copy selected text
Ctrl + X  –  Cut selected text
Ctrl + N  –  Open new/blank document
Ctrl + P  –  Open the print window
Alt + Shift + D  –  Insert the current date
Ctrl + W  –  Close document 

Microsoft Excel F2  –  Edit the selected cell 
F5  –  Go to a specific cell 
F7  –  Spell check selected text and/or document 
F11  –  Create chart
Ctrl + Shift + ;  –  Enter the current time 
Ctrl + ;  –  Enter the current date
Alt + Shift + F1  –  Insert new worksheet 
Ctrl + A  –  Select all contents of a worksheet 

3 Simple Tips to Enhance Your Business Output

Selling is a cross between psychology and understanding the needs of potential customers.

In particular, selling needs a pick of psychology because you should be able to read situations, and you need to understand the needs of customers because that is what constitutes a business in the first place.

At the end of all this, making a sale is a rewarding process. 

But, in the midst of all this shuffling, isn’t it just wonderful when a customer comes to you ready to purchase your services. Now imagine your customers coming back continuously. Surely, that’s even better.

However, this ‘ready to buy customer’ situation doesn’t just happen out of thin air. There is a process behind this level of success too, mostly related to your internal functions.

Here are our 3 steps to achieving the successful sale without the need to continuously selling.

1. Putting a Scalable Structure 

We hold the view that before you can go change the world, learn and work on yourself. In order words, bring structure to your business value by carefully analysing it.

By bringing structure to your business value, potential customers will see a clear path of collaboration and consistency within you. An air of consistent collaboration allows your potential customers to buy into you before buying from you. All this happens because of putting out the feeling of being reliable.

In fact, we have examples of business happening on a grand scale because of visible consistency.

In the food sector, for instance, we have McDonalds and Nandos. No matter where you are; you may be in your hometown or travelling; you know exactly what you are receiving when you step into these outlets.

You may not realise this but your business is no different. For a business to be successful, at least in terms of scaling, you need to inbuild the ability to sell “again and again”. This ability to sell continuously comes with instilling the right structures.

2. Team Development

Dependent on your business, you will face two different kinds of problems when growing.

First, your tasks keep multiplying or second, your team keeps growing. Both of the said challenges come with managerial and leadership angles, requiring careful examination of resources and building upon refined structures.

More currently, businesses, at least in the UK, are becoming more service based. This focus on becoming a service-based economy then leads to the higher probability of developing a team, rather than building on tasks. This is where the fine line comes.

Developing a team is not synonymous with hiring full time employees anymore.

In fact, if you go too aggressively into hiring, you may cause your business unfixable damage, not limited to financial overcommitment.

In current times, with the integration of digital options, there has been a rise in using digital platforms to find ideal individuals, who are not only passionate about what they do, but have the skills to execute for you without the need for extended training.

In this regard, have you considered secretarial or administrative tasks to be outsourced to able hands? If yes, please check our services here

Doing so is no different to other forms of services outsourcing.

For instance, small businesses are well adapted to outsourcing accounting services for year on year tax returns and advice. Similarly, it is relatively more cost effective to outsource admin and HR tasks during growth periods.

Similarly, you do not expect a business to maintain full time company transportation, even in cases where teams are sent for regular trainings, for instance. That is why, it is useful to have taxi chauffeur services on hand.

Put simply, the extent of outsourcing is expanding and you need to embrace it.

3. The Right Tech Additions

The final piece of the puzzle here is adapting useful tech that adds to your day to day work.

Here, we are not pushing you to get glamorous, usually gimmick, tech. Instead, we are talking of tools that aid communication within your team. Specifically, we are hinting towards softwares, for the most part, that integrate with day to day devices, e.g. smart phones and laptops.

Some of the most popular ones, off the shelf options, are Slack, Trello and Jira. Each of these tools play a specific role in enhancing organisational communication. For instance, Slack gives you the ability to breakdown group chats by topics, as compared to chatting over Whatsapp, for instance, where it is quite difficult to track conversations.

Similarly, Trello allows you to divide tasks by topics, that you can track as per your requirements. For instance, you can create a checklist within a subject and track the progress on tasks.

To learn more and to chat about our services, please feel free to get in touch.

This blog was made possible by our digital marketing partners, Marketing Voice, and their new project that enables businesses to find meeting rooms and serviced offices.

Top 5 Free Online Tools for Business

Aren’t some programmes just amazing finds for all sorts of areas of your business?  The tools that are available – often completely free of charge – seem never-ending and I just love to test them out when I’ve read about something new or someone suggests a system I’ve previously undiscovered!

Five of the top programmes I use and recommend in my business as a Virtual Assistant are detailed below.  Each of these are available free of charge and can make your small business (and life) so much more streamlined, organised and efficient.  All of them offer amazing business support and help give a much more professional look and feel for your customers too.

1)         Wetransfer

If you’ve never used Wetransfer before, it will transform your life!  No longer any need to send more than one email when sending a lot of data or having to make images smaller to reduce their file size.  No login or registration is required, just a straightforward nil-cost system of securely sending up to 2GB of files direct from one email address to another, via the internet.  

2)         Toggl

This one is an amazingly useful time management tool and available as an app.  If you’re running a service-orientated business, juggling various clients or just need to know how long certain tasks and activities take, sign up for the free version of Toggl.  You can assign all sorts of projects to different clients and then record your time, either manually or automatically.  The end result is that you can accurately track how many hours have been spent on any project and even produce a professional report with all the details per project/client.  

3)         Mailchimp

Mailchimp is a simple system and app to use.  Facilities include being able to create and send branded, professional, templated emails with the additional capability to track customer behaviour on a mobile dashboard.  You can easily receive sales alerts and performance reports making it a great one-stop shop for creating and monitoring customer newsletters and promotional communications.

4)         Hubspot

Hubspot is a great CRM system with a mobile app for when you’re on the move.  It makes it easy to streamline all the data for existing and prospective customers, offering up to 1,000,000 contacts, users and storage completely free of charge.  The categories for client data and the tasks involved are easy to amend and add to with an easy to use facility to change which areas of information are more relevant for your business to view.  You can link Hubspot with your calendar and set task reminders to be emailed to you on any timescales you choose.

5)         Brightbook

Although not able to be connected to any bank account, this free of charge, basic but fabulous accounting programme is available online but currently sadly not available as an app.  With the facility to record and report on outstanding monies per client as well as generate, save and send invoices and statements whilst logging and storing in one place, all relevant bills and expenses, it’s an amazing free accounting tool for small businesses to feel on top of their accounts.

Declutter Your Mind – Get Organised

We all know that we should declutter our lives to bring about harmony, calm and a sense of wellbeing but doing it on a physical basis can be a much easier process than mentally. If you set aside a day to declutter cupboards, for example, you have a set pattern to work to: put on some old, comfy clothes; get some cleaning products and bin bags together and set about sorting everything into piles.  Once the job is done, the reward is a real sense of achievement and positivity.

However, decluttering your mind can be much more daunting and difficult to achieve, albeit hugely important!  Organisation is key to both physical and mental decluttering and below are 5 tips to help declutter your mind, stay in control and have fewer matters pressing on your mind.

1)         Write it Down

Physically writing a list, either digitally or on paper is an amazing way to feel you can let go of remembering that you must do – or come back to – something.  To-do lists are often talked about in a negative way in terms of your to-do list growing and not reducing, however, if you’re juggling too many action points in your head, writing down a list of tasks or goals which need to be achieved can seriously serve to take away stress.  It can even be a good idea to keep a notebook by the bed in case a lightbulb moment happens at 3am and you think you’ll forget by morning!

2)         Review

Periodically it’s also useful to review a to-do list.  Often a task which dates back in time turns out to be either unnecessary or just no longer a priority and it’s possible to tick it off without even doing it – result!

3)         Prioritise

Prioritising tasks and goals on an ongoing basis is the only true way to make headway with a to-do list otherwise tasks/ideas/goals can remain there for the duration.  Prioritising the tasks that are the most important or those that can be done quickly is a great way of methodically making steady progress through everything on your list.

4)         Schedule

It can really help if you strictly schedule periods of time where you perhaps tackle your email inbox or spend time on social media.  Reducing the need for multi-tasking and focusing on individual activities reduces the risk of adverse mental clutter.  Setting aside specific time to focus wholly on one area increases productivity, avoids mindlessly trawling through social media and as a result saves time and reduces facts, figures and information overload.  Any interesting blogs or articles you come across online can easily be saved for reviewing at a specific time.

 5)        Clear the Decks

‘Tidy space, tidy mind’ might be an old adage but there’s certainly a lot of truth in it.  Clearing the decks and making a tidy workspace can bring about a wave of positivity, productivity and motivation.  Filing copies of all relevant paperwork electronically hugely helps keep the clutter at bay and together with keeping an electronic diary and categorising emails in your inbox in the same categories as your files, all your papers are very easily stored and subsequently located. For those few bits it might be essential to keep as hard copies, colour coded files regularly cleared out are all that’s needed in a filing cabinet drawer.  Only keeping pens that actually work and any other necessary bits and bobs tidily on your desk is the only other ingredient to feel organised and in control of your workspace and by default, your work!

Proof it!

proof it

If you’re writing an email, essay, website, promotional copy or anything else, apart from being engaging, it’s essential that your text is free from any errors.  We’ve all come to rely on spellcheck however in reality, it’s just not enough. The solution is to proofread any piece of writing and detailed below are 7 tips to help make your proofreading more effective:

1          Print out your finished article and proof from a printed sheet of paper.  It can really help and even more so if you use coloured paper, such as yellow or pink.  It’s been proven that people with dyslexic tendencies struggle less to read from coloured paper.  It can be very difficult to spot mistakes on screen and if you also read aloud, it can help pick up on those missing small words that your mind can think it’s seen even when they’re not there!

2          The misuse of apostrophes can be the most problematic issue faced in our quest for good grammar!  The meanings of ‘it’s’ and ‘its’ are very different and although we associate an apostrophe with ‘belonging to’, confusingly, this rule doesn’t apply when using ‘its’.  Equally, apostrophes should never be used to signify a plural.

3          Homonyms are words that share the same pronunciation– or spelling – but have very different meanings.  For example, using ‘principle’ instead of ‘principal’ or ‘accept’ instead of ‘except’ can dramatically change the meaning of a sentence.

4          Punctuation such as a comma is invaluablein making sense of a phrase. For example, ‘let’s eat Grandma’ means something far more sinister than ‘let’s eat, Grandma’!

5          Numbers such as those used in phone numbers or monetary values need to be checked very carefully.  No one wants to have misrepresented the cost of a product or service or directed their customer to the local takeaway by giving the wrong phone number!

6          Focus is key when proofreading.  Sounds obvious but your mind can readily mislead you when reading text and assume it’s seen ‘your’ when ‘you’ has been typed or the words, ‘an’ or ‘of’ when they’re just not there.  Make sure you give full concentration to the piece you’re proofreading – no phone, no television, no conversation, no distraction.

7          If all else fails… get someone else to read it.  A fresh pair of eyes will read copy in a very different way from those of the author who knows exactly what he/she meant to say but hasn’t always typed it!

Versatile Virtual Assistants

Do you:

– run your business remotely and are unsure how to practically recruit support?

– only have need for periodic business support?

– worry about recruiting permanent staff or a series of ever-changing temps?

– need help managing your email inbox or diary?

– run customer events and have little time to follow up?

– spend time on writing social media posts, proofing, data management, research, etc. which would be much better spent on other matters?

– on occasion, just have need for a no-fuss, efficient, experienced extra pair of hands?

The solution to all these issues and many more is to appoint a Virtual Assistant- ad hoc or retained.

A Virtual Assistant does NOT need:

– time and money spent on recruitment

– access to your office

– hand-holding

– company training

– office equipment

– additional costs allocated to pensions, leave or NI

– showing where the coffee machine is….

Inbox Overload?

‘Inbox Zero’ is a strategy developed by US podcaster, Merlin Mann, to stop the stresses of an overloaded email inbox in three steps:-

  1. Completely clear your email inbox to start with a clean slate. Mann said, ‘If you can find the time to check email, you must also use that time to do something with that email.’
  2. Set your inbox to retrieve emails only at intervals, not every time a message arrives; unsubscribe from newsletters and organise folders by deadline not by subject.
  3. Thereafter only check and deal with your emails during dedicated email management periods of time.

Emails prove hugely distracting as they constantly drop into your inbox and – according to one study – it can take up to 23 minutes to regain focus after a distraction!