When you run a business, there are always ongoing jobs that take up precious time. It can be frustrating to spend hours on tasks that need doing, yet which don’t necessarily push your business forward, bring in money, or drive growth. Luckily, there are some ways to make life easier and free up more time to focus on other areas of your business, and that is by using automation tools. Here’s a quick guide to some business processes and workflows that can be automated, and some of the best tools to use.
Even though we live in the digital era, accounting still uses many different processes and ways to gather information. It may involve data entry into numerous spreadsheets, electronic and paper invoices, filing, and using a calculator. But, using automation tools can save you time, eliminate human error, and give you the convenience of retrieving information whenever you need it. What’s more, many of the tools will merge seamlessly with your accounting software and can interact with one another. For example, payments that arrive through a gateway such as Stripe or PayPal can assimilate with accounting software, for an invoice or receipt to be created using a tool such as Zapier.
Not just for accounting, Zapier is a fantastic tool for connecting different apps and automating many business processes. It allows data to be shared from many apps you use, and passes information between them, so workflows become more streamlined.
Call scheduling tools make it easy for clients or people interested in your services to book a time slot for a call. It is then automatically added to a calendar so you can see exactly what is booked in on any day. This saves you time on sending correspondence via email to arrange appointments, and organising your diary.
Some of the best call scheduling tools are Calendly, ScheduleOnce, HubSpot and YouCanBook.me (I use this one), and most will also sync with Google apps such as Google Calendar and Gmail.
Creating an engaged community around your business is an essential part of marketing, but posting on social media takes time. This is especially true if you have an audience on many different platforms. One great way to save time is to use social media scheduling tools. This means you can batch create posts and set them to be published at the best times of day to reach your audience, and it can be done in advance.
Tools such as Hootsuite can schedule posts across different platforms, and you can also reply to comments, see new followers and keep an eye on your timeline too. Other options include Social Sprout, Buffer and Later. The key features of many of these tools allow you manage multiple social media platforms from one place, saving time.
Lead Magnets and Email Marketing
When someone lands on your website, one of the best ways for them to become a customer or client is to offer them something, in return for their email address. Once you have a subscriber, you can then contact them directly with news of the services you provide. Lead magnets include useful resources, such as a planner or template, an eBook, a mini email course or taster coaching session.
Once you have your lead magnet created, it can automatically be sent once a website visitor has opted in. Every new subscriber will follow the same path, and receive a lead magnet and set of follow up emails over time, automatically. One of the most commonly used tools for this is MailChimp. Other options include ActiveCampaign, InfusionSoft and ConvertKit.
Using automation tools can be a great benefit to your business, and many are free to begin with. As your business grows, or you increase your use of the tools, you may need to upgrade to use additional features. When running a business, smooth workflows makes all the difference. If you want some helpful advice on how we can work together to streamline your processes, feel free to get in touch.
An Online Business Manager (OBM) provides professional, managerial level support for businesses. While there are similarities between an OBM and a Virtual Assistant (VA), there is a marked difference. A VA provides general office support, whereas an OBM oversees and manages a wide range of operational processes, freeing up your time so you can use your expertise where it is needed most.
Here are the top 5 reasons how hiring an online business manager benefits your business:
1. Handles Daily Tasks
Those daily tasks that seem to get in the way, yet are an essential part of keeping your business running smoothly, can all be handled by an online business manager. Project management, administration, communicating with staff and customers, organising documents and data… an OBM can create efficient workflows and improve time management.
2. Increase Growth
When you are not bogged down in the nitty gritty of core operations, it allows you to focus your time on developing your business further. You will have more time and resources to scale up and expand your customer base, and be able to act on new opportunities that come up.
Not only that, an OBM is likely to have the experience and skills to help you create new business strategies, and a wide business network where you can make new connections.
3. Fresh Set of Eyes
Sometimes, we are so close to our business that we ‘can’t see the wood for the trees’. When you first began your business, you may have had ways of doing things that worked well at the time. However, as your business grows or changes, those processes become less efficient. It can be hard to make changes when you’ve always done things a certain way, or don’t have time to implement a new way of working. An OBM is a fresh set of eyes on your business, and may be able to suggest new ways of streamlining processes that you never thought of before.
4. Improve Work/Life Balance
Running a business is often challenging, especially for entrepreneurs who have to manage many aspects. When you spread yourself too thinly, both your business and your personal life begin to show the strain. There may also be times when you need to take a day or two off, such as through illness or commitments. It’s impossible to be in two or three places at once and still expect to be working effectively, so hiring an OBM can help provide that much needed manpower to make sure all areas of your business are running smoothly.
5. Freedom to be Creative
As a business owner, founder, or CEO, you are the visionary that steers the ship. When the day-to-day pressure is lessened, you can use your creativity to think of new ways to develop your business, how to best serve your customers or clients, and create future plans that fully align with your business values.
Ready to find out more?
Whatever the size of your business, if you are finding that time spent on core processes is slowing down growth, then hiring an OBM could be the answer you’re looking for. Feel free to get in touch to see how we could work together to support the growth of your business.
As a professional coach, you know how to get the best out of people. But how good are you at making the most of your own time on a day-to-day basis?
Whether you think you are good at managing your time, or know that you could do better, the tips outlined below will be helpful. Even if one of them leads to a small improvement in your daily time management, this post will have been all worthwhile.
1. Eliminate distractions
Before you can even begin to start managing your time more effectively, you have to eliminate all the daily distractions (no matter how big or small) that have a habit of consuming your time.
Whether it’s your phone alerting you to an instant message, your email program throwing up a new mail notification, or something less technology-related like a pile of boxes that need sorting in the corner of your home office, all of these things can distract you.
They even say that just having your phone in view can be distracting. So when you’re working on something important, switch your phone off and put it out of sight (and out of mind).
2. Track your time
Do you know exactly how you spend your time each day? Many coaches don’t. But how can you begin to manage your time better if you don’t even know where it’s going in the first place?
Fortunately, there are some great time-tracking apps to help you figure out what’s stealing your precious minutes and hours. Toggl, Clockify and RescueTime are all solid examples.
Alternatively, consider quickly scribbling down how many times you get distracted by someone (calling, messaging, etc.) or whenever you get sidetracked working on a random task.
The point is to record how you’re spending your time so you can identify time drains, take control of the situation and make positive changes.
3. Have a to-do list & prioritise
It might seem obvious, but having a simple to-do list can really improve your time management. With the tasks you need to complete each day set out in front of you, you’ll never be wondering what’s next.
But don’t just list all the tasks that need completing. Assign them a priority based on urgency and importance. Then, look to work on your high priority tasks when you are at your most effective (more on this in point number 5).
Create your to-do list the evening before for the best results. It allows you to hit the ground running in the morning and get stuck straight into your daily tasks.
The fact of the matter is a to-do list keeps you focussed and motivated, plus you get a little mental boost each time you tick a task off.
4. Focus on one task at a time
As a busy coach, it can be tempting to multi-task. After all, it’s an effective way to use your time, right? Not really.
If you have decided on a task, see it through to the end before starting a new one. Leaving a task half-finished will likely result in you being unable to concentrate and focus on the next task on your to-do list. That unfinished task will be constantly lingering somewhere in your mind, so try to avoid leaving something halfway through.
However, you should never get so engrossed in a task that you forget to take regular breaks. A nice way to avoid this happening is to use one of the various time management methods that are out there.
The Pomodoro Technique is a popular one and it basically involves spending 25 minutes working on a task without any interruptions or distractions. Then, have a 5-minute break before starting another 25 minutes on the task. Repeat this pattern until you have spent 100 minutes working on the task, at which point you should treat yourself to a longer break of 20-30 mins.
5. Hack your schedule
There will be times during the day when you know you are at your most productive or feel most energised. Take advantage of these times by using them to work on tasks that require more concentration and aren’t necessarily routine.
Maybe you are super productive first thing in the morning when the rest of your household is still asleep, or perhaps you’re more of a night owl who smashes it in the evenings. Whichever your preference, utilise it to your advantage. It’s all about arranging your day to achieve maximum efficiency wherever possible.
6. Set boundaries & learn how to say “no”
As a coach, you inevitably have multiple clients. Chances are that those clients are all pretty different too, meaning their expectations and preferences vary. The bottom line is the more clients you have, the smarter you need to be when it comes to managing your time.
That’s why it’s so important to set boundaries and learn how to say “no”. Never take on more than you can comfortably manage and be prepared to push back when a client’s requests could lead to your attention becoming consumed.
At the end of the day, there’s a big possibility that you created your own coaching business because you wanted to be your own boss and work on your terms. Don’t let assertive clients try and change that.
7. Delegate & outsource
You’re a coach, which means you spend your life getting the very best out of people. But how often do you listen to your own advice and teachings, especially when it comes to working smarter.
One of the best ways to work smarter is to spend your time on the tasks that afford the most value. So it makes sense to delegate anything that can be completed by someone else at less cost to your business, or tasks that are required but are simple, meaning they can be easily outsourced.
This will free up your time so you can focus on what you do best: bringing money in the door.
Not sure about delegating and outsourcing? Never done it before and aren’t sure just how easy it can be? Book a call with me today and I’ll be happy to show you.
When you first started your business, chances are you were keen to take on pretty much any client that came along — even if you weren’t 100% sure about them at the time. After all, you were more than likely still finding your feet and securing business gave you the confidence boost you needed.
But over the years as you and your business have grown, you will have come to realise that some clients just aren’t worth the hassle. And while you have now learnt how to spot potential problem clients before you take them on, you may still have a few whom you still work with.
The bottom line is that people and relationships change, and that’s fine. You just need to learn to know when to say goodbye and move on.
Now you might be thinking, why on earth would I want to actively get rid of a client, Jo!? And it’s a great question, which you’ll hopefully have the answer to by the end of this post.
Problem clients are restricting you and your business
Whether you realise it or not, problem clients are almost certainly restricting you and your business. That’s because more often than not you will be spending time satisfying their whims, instead of focussing on the stuff that matters to your business.
Then there’s the stress they cause you, which is sometimes reason enough to say goodbye. If there’s one thing that the recent coronavirus lockdown has taught me it’s that my mental health is more precious than I ever realised and it should be protected at all costs.
The problem for many entrepreneurs, freelancers and business owners though is that they hang on to problem clients because they are worried about how they will fill the financial hole that would be left if they got rid of them. I know this because it’s exactly how I felt until I finally took the plunge.
But once I’d politely informed a couple of my clients that I wanted to part ways with them, I felt a huge sense of relief and renewed determination. The best part is that I managed to secure a new client the very next day — some of that newfound determination shining through perhaps?
5 problem clients you should consider dumping
While a client can become a pain for all manner of reasons, here are the 5 main problematic traits that I and people in my professional network have come across:
You know the ones. Those clients who always seem to have a reason for why they haven’t paid you yet this month, despite your agreed payment date having not changed for years. Clients who regularly pay you late disrupt your cash flow, cause you headaches and you simply do not need them.
These are the clients who frequently expect you to do stuff outside of what you’ve agreed. For example, they’ll ask you to carry out a task, which you do, then they move the goalposts and assume you’ll be okay with that.
Having your confidence knocked in your personal life is bad enough. It’s even worse when it happens in your professional life too. Clients who constantly make you doubt your abilities and tell you where you are going wrong are not good. They’re not good for your business, your confidence or your sanity.
There’s a good chance that you started your own business so you’d be the boss and not have to feel like an employee again. But this all changes when you’ve got a client who acts like they’re your manager. Remember, while you’re providing them with services, you are your own boss.
And clients you simply don’t get along with
As I’ve already mentioned, people and relationships change. If you find that you are simply no longer getting on with a client the way you used to, maybe it’s time to call it a day. There’s no point struggling along for either of your sakes. The connection will never be the same, unfortunately.
How to let your problem clients down gently
It’s never nice or easy sending a goodbye email or having a final telephone call, but it’s an inevitable part of business. To help you out and conclude this post, I’m going to give you a quick takeaway on how to let your problem clients down gently.
- Give them plenty of notice — follow what’s laid out in your contract and give them as much time as possible to replace you. It’s going to be hard after all, right 😉
- Stay professional — it’s never a good idea to burn bridges or make public any difference you had, especially in the business world. You never know when you might want a reference or similar.
- Finish any outstanding tasks — don’t leave them in the lurch with a bunch of unfinished projects.
- Refer them to someone else — maybe you have an associate who could help the client out. If they’re a better fit for the work or the individual, consider making an introduction.
Getting rid of problem clients might seem counterintuitive, but doing so can genuinely save your sanity, renew your sense of self-worth and end up strengthening your business going forward.
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.
Amy has a website www.alvirtualassistance.co.uk.
My Graphic Designer – Ryan
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.
Ryan has a a website https://bookbrand.co.uk.
My Writer – James
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!
James is on LinkedIn.
So that’s my core team. Feel free to get in touch with any of them if you think they might benefit your own businesses. I am sure they would love to be of assistance.
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 –
- Google Analytics
- Social Oomph
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!