Having a team around you (even a virtual one) is a great benefit not only to your business, but also your health and state of mind. The fact I am in a position to delegate tasks to others is a great feeling, and achieving it yourself is not as hard as you may think.
When I first started my business, I struggled for a long time trying to do everything myself when, in fact, I should have been taking my own advice as a virtual assistant and outsourcing some of my work.
Now, having been in business for just over 8 years, I have been outsourcing work to freelancers for the past 6 of those at least, and I feel much better for it.
A few years ago I had a great conversation with a client on Skype about what can I offer to people that is unique. The conclusion was that not only can I provide services to clients myself, but I can also offer a team of freelancers who have additional skills and can go above and beyond the core services I offer.
My fab freelancers and I have found each other via lots of different avenues. For example, I used to use PeoplePerHour to look for freelancers and that’s how I met James (below), but nowadays I usually meet them on Facebook. I am part of a great group called Freelance Heroes and this is my first port of call when I am looking for some help with something I don’t have the skills for.
One of my clients also frequently tasks me with finding freelancers for him and his clients, and that’s where I head first. I also use some other groups, depending on the sort of person I am looking for.
Without further ado, I want to introduce you to some of the freelancers I work with as I think they are all fabulous.
My Virtual Assistant – Amy
I have been working with Amy for over 2 years now. We met through a client that we both work with (although I found her for my client and was so impressed I hired her too). We have an ad-hoc working arrangement, so I send her tasks as and when I need them completed. The tasks vary, from work for my own business, or helping me out with some of my clients’ tasks when they all have a lot going on at the same time. I am also teaching her the ropes on book formatting so she can start helping me out with this as well. I know that if I send a task over to Amy then it will be done within the given timescales and to a very high standard.
Ryan and I have been working together for a while now. In fact, I am having trouble remembering how we first got together. Ryan works mainly with book covers, but more recently started formatting as well. For my eBook formatting service this works really well as I can recommend Ryan to my author clients or pass him enquiries when I am too busy. Many of my clients use Ryan to design their covers.
Other things I have used Ryan for are my social media cover images, as you can see all my cover images are the same across my networks now, and Ryan did a great job at designing these for me. He has also designed cover images for one of my clients, which they were really pleased with.
As I mentioned earlier, I discovered James on PPH years ago. Since then, he has become my every day go to writer for both my own articles and for my clients. James helps to take away all my stress around writing by providing a fresh perspective and polishing stuff that I’ve written myself to make it sound that bit better. Without him, I would be a very stressed virtual assistant!
5 Simple Steps to Utilising Social Media
Without it Taking Over Your Life
No matter the size of your business, Social Media has become an integral part of its success. Whilst large companies have the finances to employ full-time social media managers, it’s not a luxury afforded by all. Small businesses, start-ups and freelancers are still responsible for managing their own social media presence and more often than not, the success of their business depends on it.
Using social media to your advantage and connecting with your market doesn’t need to be overwhelming, time-consuming or expensive. Following these simple steps can help your business succeed online without surrendering your life to social media.
Start With A Plan
As with all business models, the most important aspect is to have a strategy in place. By figuring out exactly what you are trying to achieve through your social media presence, you are better prepared to direct your time to the most useful tasks.
Set specific goals and objectives attainable, measurable goals based on metrics that will have a real impact on your business, like acquiring customers or increasing sales.
Research your competition. Save time and blunders by learning from your competitors mistakes and wins.
Conduct a social media audit. Step back and examine what is already working for you and what isn’t.
Create a social media calendar. Make sure that your content is where it should be, when it should be, with the right mix of content types for your audience.
Now that you know what you will be using social media for, you will be able to schedule how and when to use it in the most efficient ways.
Social media use is more than just posting content, you need to be engaging with your potential customers, too. Make a calendar or timesheet with allocations for creating content/graphics, scheduling, engagement etc.
Visual aids are great for reminding us to keep on task so make sure it’s physically noted in your to-do list or calendar and kept in view. You should set a specific amount of time to each part and you can even use a timer to make sure that you stay on track.
Choose the Right Platforms
It might seem like a good idea to be on all of the social media platforms, but if your target market isn’t there then you’re wasting your time. Your energy could be focused on another more profitable part of your business. It’s important to know where your target market is so that you can be there, too. This will result in less time spent making more profit.
Don’t assume you know where they are. It might seem obvious that Pinterest isn’t the best platform if your business sells bodybuilding supplements but you can use these handy social media demographics, put together by Hootsuite, to figure out where you should be.
Know Your Audience
As a small business or freelancer, you are able to micro-target your ideal clients via social media. This is a crucial part of your time spent on social media. Getting to know your audience allows you to create content which is specifically geared towards them and in return converts to more sales/customers and less wasted time.
Twitter and Research Now reported that 93% of people who follow small and medium-sized businesses on Twitter plan to buy from the businesses that they follow.
Quality Over Quantity
Trying to post on all of the social media platforms all of the time is a sure-fire way for your social media use to spiral out of control.
It’s much more time-effective, and successful for your business, to reach out to your audience in the places you already know they are present. Providing good quality content instead of spam builds a trustworthy brand and a well managed social media schedule.
The most effective means of social media use is to take advantage of the vast array of automated management tools. These are designed specifically to simplify your workload and mean that you can be posting on social media without actually being present on it.
There are countless different software options for this and they cover everything from scheduling content posting and centralising messages/mentions from all platform accounts, to curating content and creating in-depth analytic reports.
You may not yet be in the position to spend money on such programs but there are many free options available to you. Most of them have upgrade options for paid versions, too. If you decide to pay for them, you can include the rates in the bills for any clients that make use of them in your account. Some of them include –
Utilising these will allow you to allocate just one slot per day or week to your social media use instead of being stuck on it all the time.
If there is one thing to remember about social media though, it’s that:
Automation is no replacement for organic engagement.
Social media users are always looking for authenticity and connection. This is what will ultimately drive your business success on social media. Make sure that whatever else you automate, you include time in your plan to interact with your audience.
Respond to comments/messages
Comment on blog posts
Like other relevant groups/pages
Repin images on Pinterest
Mention/Tag on Instagram
Whilst engagement/interaction may seem like an easy thing to omit in order to spend less time on social media, it is actually the most important part! If you choose only one thing to implement from this list, make sure it’s engage-engage-engage!
Running a business is time-consuming enough, don’t let social media marketing take up all your valuable time or cause unnecessary stress. Try these steps and let me know in the comments if you have any other tips to share!
Do you find yourself having to convince your family or friends that you are working from home and not just hanging around the house?
Is your use of Social Media platforms in your online business giving out the wrong impression to your family?
Working from home opens up a lot of freedom. In many instances you can set your own work hours, you can be more flexible with when to take breaks or time off, you are less likely to suffer work-related stress… or are you?
Working from home comes with its own unique set of problems. It’s really hard in the early days of freelancing, for your friends and family to recognise that it is a job and you are working.
You don’t leave for the office, you spend so much time on your phone/laptop, you are constantly on social media. Maybe your business is in its infancy and you don’t have a lot of income to back up your claims of working.
If you’re tired of the arduous attempts at making your family or friends recognise and value that you are working at home, then you need to implement some of these top tips.
Define the value of your work
Your spouse, partner, parent or friendly neighbour may not even realise that they are interrupting your workflow. If they see you at home, on your phone or even sitting down it may appear to them as an invitation for chit chat. Meanwhile, it breaks your concentration, infringes on your time and devalues the effort you are putting into your work.
Start by having a conversation with those closest to you about what exactly your work entails. Why are you on your phone? How is Social Media important for your business success? What exactly do you do for your clients and why it is important?
A simple but clear explanation of how you work will help them know that you are not as available as they first thought.
Involving your loved ones in setting your goals and celebrating work-related achievements will add substance and value to what may be a far stretched concept for them.
Set Clear Boundaries
As well as knowing exactly what you do in your work, your family also need to know what you need them to do.
Set very clear boundaries about your expectations of them and what they can expect from you. What days and times will you be available to them? Is your work flexible for interruptions? Having a routine in place where you take regular breaks around the same time will help enforce that you are working.
This is also true for you. It’s easy to get caught up with sneaking in some work time when you are supposed to be with family. Keep the connection time personal and they will more easily see and respect the difference between work time and free time.
Illustrate your Financial Gain
Often the worth of a project is defined by what you are gaining from it. If your family feel like they are losing out on time with you but are not yet gaining any financial benefit from your work, it can be difficult to get them on board.
Make a graphic illustration of your work earnings and pin it on the wall so that they can see what everyone is gaining. Is your income paying for football club, dance classes, that extra holiday week your spouse is taking off? Colour code it to make it clear for them.
Job Sheets and Client Tasks
Make a list of clients and the weekly tasks that must be completed for each of them. If confidentiality is an issue then you can give them colours, silly pictures or simply client numbers.
Pin it to the wall alongside your “Daily Tasks” board so that everyone, including you, knows exactly what needs to be done on any given day, in order to get paid.
Make a Schedule
So you already have a Daily Taskboard related to your work but is that enough for everyone to know how life and work can co-exist at home?
Make a schedule with your family showing when you are working, when household chores will be done, when you will be home but available to them, when extended family or friends are welcome to stop by.
You can include any categories that make it more structured and easy to follow. This is particularly helpful if you have kids at home so that they know when you will play or stop for lunch, when they can go out with you or when they need to entertain themselves.
As an added bonus, you could make it on a dry erase board so that you can change it on the fly. After all, working from home is supposed to be flexible.
Sometimes interruptions are just inevitable, especially if you have kids at home. You can set all the boundaries you want, but there need to be times when everyone knows it’s OK to break your flow.
Make a system that everyone understands as to when it is OK to come into your workspace. You could pin a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on your office door, or wear a set of headphones to indicate that you do not want to chat with anyone. This sends a very clear message that you are not available.
If the door is closed they cannot enter unless the house is on fire or there is a medical emergency.
The door half open means you are busy but don’t mind brief interruptions to resolve issues – does your spouse need the credit card out of your drawer?
The door fully open means you are taking a short break or you don’t mind the kids popping in to show you what they’re up to.
Come up with your own system that everyone understands.
Sitting on your phone or laptop on the sofa isn’t convincing anyone that you are hard at work, regardless if it’s the truth. Let’s face it, it probably isn’t getting you into the most productive frame of mind, either.
Having a dedicated workspace is invaluable. If you can manage to section it off from the rest of the shared space, even better. It affords you some privacy and sends a clear message to everyone else that you are ‘at work’ rather than at home.
If you’re not able to have a private room dedicated to your work, it’s worth having a back-up option for days that just aren’t flowing how you need them to.
We all have a vision of our perfect environment but sometimes neighbours are renovating, noisily, visitors flock to your door, or indeed your own kids are having a particularly rough or loud day.
Life is chaotic and in these times it’s helpful to have a backup location that you can disappear to, to carry out your work with less distraction. The local library, coffee shop, co-working space or spare keys to a relative’s empty house are all considerations.
Have you implemented any of these strategies? Are they working for you or have you come up with your own innovative techniques?
However you have made it work, everyone in the family now appreciates that you’re working. They all value the time and effort that you’re putting in, and you’re all clear on the boundaries when you’re busy. Great job!
What a great plan, work from home, choose your own hours, no commuting, no need to even get dressed! How many of you are attracted by that concept? It sounds ideal doesn’t it?
One of the great things about freelancing is that you can choose your hours, and you can work on projects for people in different time zones to yourself. Work that they need completing overnight will be during the day for you. If you are a new freelancer you may need to stretch yourself and work weekends, and/or at night as you build up your business. This though should not be your norm, as it could be a slippery slope to stress within your relationships.
So how do you manage your time? How do you provide yourself with at least some loose structure. How do you persuade your family that you are indeed working even though you’re in your dressing gown and at home? How do you persuade visitors that you’re working when they call by for a chat and a cuppa?
From experience, this is not so easy. Upon giving up a job where your hours are monitored, your start and finish times are fixed and where there is perhaps some sort of dress code, one needs to find a way to structure and plan working hours whilst enjoying the benefits of the new freedom to live a life less structured.
On a personal level, I am at my most creative and strangely most awake between the hours of 10pm and 1am. This is not helpful when a partner may have been at work all day (out of the home), and is looking forward to some ‘us’ time after the evening meal. This is also not useful after midnight when a partner might be expecting you to come to bed. In fact this will be one of the most difficult relationships to manage and manage well. If you are able to manage this, the rest will be much easier.
It’s probably a myth that becoming freelance takes you away from timetables and start and finish times, and it may be this myth that can send you onto the rocks. Yes, you are now no longer answerable to another’s timetable and working hours, yet it is still important to implement your own timetables and working hours. Doing this for yourself, and letting those close to you know what your hours and timetables are will avoid the inevitable disagreement when wants and needs conflict. If your friends know that you work between certain hours and cannot be disturbed then, it will avoid that untimely knock at the door and the difficulty of saying No. During these working hours you will need to be short with social phone calls and let the caller know you’ll call them back when you’re not working. If you manage your time assertively, your friends and partner will fall into line.
The other relationship you’ll need to manage will be that of yours to work. How many freelancers feel bad if they are NOT working and find themselves either continuing not to work and feeling bad, or working at times when others may not be working, weekends for instance. Setting yourself a timetable and a structure will allow you to enjoy your social life without the guilt, and will give you time to revitalise yourself and aid your creativity when you are working. How many freelancers keep going without a break? Taking breaks, even if only short 15-20 minute breaks (timetable them in) will keep you fresh and creative.
There must be many more time management ideas; these are just a few, feel free to let me know your own time management ideas by leaving a comment on this blog post.
To be productive in this fast paced land of notifications and distractions isn’t easy, even for those of us who like to write about it sometimes. I can often be found in a heap at my desk thinking I may as well give up work for the day because there have been so many distractions and interruptions.
There are many productiveness killers, especially when you work from home, and I like to break them down into these categories:
The telephone (whether business or personal), it can interrupt you at anytime during the day and whatever you’re working on at the time will have to be put to one side.
The doorbell, family/friends, the postman, cold callers, people spreading the word of the Lord… it happens, although not so much for me now I have moved to rural France.
Lunchtime, I put this as an interruption because for me I would happily go on working through the whole day without stopping for lunch if I could, but I need to eat. The same applies to tea/coffee breaks.
Email notifications, if you have these set-up they can take you off task by dragging you over to your email to respond.
Social media notifications, the same applies here, they distract you from what you’re supposed to be working on.
Dogs, they need walking… and although they get me away from my desk twice a day for a walk, it’s a distraction that somedays I could do without.
The radio (if you have it on while you’re working), I tend to have the radio on during the day, music I can work quite well too but when there’s a lot of speaking it distracts me quite a bit.
If you’re feeling under the weather it’s going to cause you to be less productive, I know that some days I feel like I’d rather be laying on the sofa with a good book or watching a film.
Stress, this is a big killer of productiveness, if you’re stressed you’re not going to achieve anything.
Not getting enough fresh air, if you’re stuck at your desk for up to 12 hours a day it’s not doing anything for your health or your productivity.
An untidy office is going to create a messy mind, if you have paperwork everywhere, can never find anything, then you’re not going to be working efficiently.
If you work from home then having a messy home the other side of your office is probably going to cause you some stress – it does me!
No filing system on your computer is just as bad as having a messy office, it causes inefficiency.
Can you think of any other categories?
I had originally planned to give you some of my favourite iPhone apps for this article, but it’s turned out to be a much more in-depth post, so I’m still going to give you some apps to check out after my relevant tips.
How to deal with interruptions…
You could ignore the telephone and put voicemail on when you are busy working on a project, I think it’s perfectly acceptable not to answer every single telephone call, you don’t answer emails instantly (well most people don’t).
You may like to install CCTV at your front door so you can see who is calling and then choose to ignore them or not… that’s a bit of a joke, but seriously, if you’re working on something, ignore the door too, or just check out the window first to check it’s not anything urgent.
Lunch is difficult to miss, and you shouldn’t skip it, you probably could do with the break anyway, so why not take half an hour to do something else even if it’s just to hang the washing outside.
How to deal with disruptions…
Any notification can be turned off, so if you’re working on something, turn it off. I find that this is great for productiveness, I can work for much longer if I don’t see the emails appearing in my inbox and all the social media stuff appearing on my computer and iPhone.
Give the dogs something to chew on which will keep them entertained while you’re working, or if it’s walk time, then take them out.
I have found that when there’s lots of speaking on the radio and it’s distracting me from my work (usually if I’m writing something I need to concentrate on) I mute it (in fact I have just done that so I can get this post finished). Mute is a handy tool, use it more!
How to improve your well-being…
If you’re not feeling 100% then take a break, if you have deadlines then prioritise these and then set a time where you can take a break. If you set aside some time to relax you’ll get on with your work more efficiently as you’ll be looking forward to relaxing.
Stress over a long period of time can really inhibit your working day, so you need to stop and look at what is causing the stress. Money worries? Workload? Personal problems? Try to write down what is causing your stress and find ways of dealing with it, the stress won’t go away overnight but just by acknowledging the problems on paper will commit you to taking the first steps.
Take a break – You must get outside in the fresh air everyday, I used to be really bad at this. I used to sit at my desk all day, and then I got a dog, I now have two dogs! They force me to get outside at least twice a day and I feel much better for it. Sometimes having to take the dogs for a walk isn’t good for getting things done, but once you’re in a routine it does get better. Even if you go out for a 5 minute walk around the block at lunchtime, it will give you enough energy to get the rest of your work done.
Here are some apps that I feel help with well-being. I have used a few of these apps, Insight Timer is great at night and I have a great iPhone app called BetterMe which has some breathing exercises for various situations, anger, irritation, worry, sadness etc… I’ve also heard HeadSpace and Calm are also great apps for well-being.
How to deal with clutter…
This is such an easy thing to achieve but I am my own worse enemy sometimes. Just spend 10 minutes each morning or evening tidying your office, making sure things have been filed away, clearing your desk. Before I worked from home I used to be great at this, things have slipped a bit now, but I think that’s because I know it’s only me that has to look at the mess. But it only takes 10 minutes…
Housework causes me stress, I hate it… I have managed to get it under some kind of control. Having pets with a lot of hair is the worst thing ever. I think you have to accept it, you’re going to spend the rest of your life clearing and cleaning. The best thing you can do is the same as with your office, spend 10-15 minutes each day (maybe at lunchtime) having a tidy up. If you do this each day, even if things are not spotless at least you’ll be less stressed. If like me you can afford a cleaner once a week, then even better… it has taken me 7 years of freelance working to put cleaner at the top of my priorities, and it’s so worth it!
With the amount of things you can download onto your computer these days it soon ends up being very cluttered. If you start as you mean to go on, again this won’t be a long job. Every week check through your files and make sure they are in the relevant folders so you can easily find them again. Many people believe that it’s not necessary now because you can easily run a search of your whole computer, but what if you can’t remember what you named it? Better to have specific folders for specific files.
Here are my favourite apps which help me control my clutter and save time:
Hazel watches whatever folders you tell it to, automatically organizing your files according to the rules you create. Have Hazel move files around based on name, date, type, what site it came from and much more. Automatically sort your movies or file your bills. Keep your files off the desktop and put them where they belong.
Toby is a great add-on for Google Chrome, it’s like a filing system for all your websites, you can easily find all the important sites you use time after time without keeping all the tabs open and slowing down your computer.
TextExpander is a massive time saver, you can create snippets and templates which appear at a touch of a button or two. This saves so much time when writing emails, and anywhere else you need template text quickly.
LastPass keeps all my logins safe and secure, not only that it also keeps my client logins safe and secure too… I can also login to accounts with a click of the mouse.
What are your top productivity tips? I love to find out what other people do to increase their efficiency while working so please add your tips in the comments. I hope some of my advice is helpful, and look forward to hearing about yours.
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