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.
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.
Help Family & Friends Understand You ARE Working!
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!
If you’re looking for some tips on how to manage your time as a freelancer, take a look at my post ‘Freelancer? How Do You Manage Your Time?’
Do you know any freelancing ninjas struggling to kick out the visitors and get their work done? Share this post with them and give them some stepping stones to success!
I regularly get people contacting me through LinkedIn to ask how I started being a virtual assistant (VA). In fact, the frequency and number of enquiries prompted me to write this blog post – after all, I’m all about boosting productivity and efficiency, which is why it made sense to write an informative post and direct wannabe VAs towards it.
First and foremost, before I started my VA business, I did huge amounts of research. I spent a lot of time online digesting as many free resources as I could and absorbing all the advice and tips I was finding – there was a lot!
Google is your friend
A quick Google search for ‘how to become a virtual assistant’ yields a whopping 8.4 million results (at time of writing). Even if you just take the time to go through the first page of results alone, you’ll glean a huge amount of relevant info (as I did more than six years ago).
Next, I looked to satisfy the avid reader in me and checked what books relating to becoming a virtual assistant were available on Amazon. There wasn’t actually that many (at the time), but one did stick out, so I placed an order. It was “The Virtual Assistant Handbook: Insider Secrets for Starting and Running Your Own Profitable VA Business” by Nadine Hill. It’s a great resource because it’s so easy to read. I couldn’t put it down once I’d started and read it from cover to cover in no time. It was definitely worth the cost as it contained information about things I hadn’t thought about.
Another great book written by an acquaintance of mine is How to be a Virtual Assistant: Start and run your own successful VA business by Catherine Gladwyn.
With my interest seriously piqued and my passion to learn more in overdrive, I joined the Virtual Assistant Forums. Like most Internet-based forums, this one allows you to post questions and discuss topics with people who are virtual assistants already or working towards becoming one.
A great way to gain some exposure in such forums is by linking your blog and Twitter accounts, then adding real value to the conversations that are going on. People will naturally look at your profile if they see you as someone who knows what they’re talking about and may click through to your website/social media accounts as a result.
I then joined the International Virtual Assistants Association (IVAA). It’s a non-profit organisation dedicated to VA development, education and raising public awareness of what VAs do. There are several different membership categories, all of which boast a number of benefits. Check out the IVAA website for more information.
There are two VA directory sites that I’d recommend to anyone looking to start out in this industry: Virtual Assistantville and BeMyVA. They are great places to advertise your services and potentially secure your first clients. Be sure to check out the membership benefits of BeMyVA, as there’s a chance you could feature on their social media accounts and have your articles featured in their newsletter.
Twitter lists featuring virtual assistants are great; all you’ve got to do is find some. The easiest way to do this is by using the Twitter search feature to find out profiles relating to virtual assistance, VAs, etc. One you’ve started following some of the profiles you’ve found, go through their accounts and look at any lists they’ve created and been added to. Chances are there will be some relating solely to virtual assistance, which can join or retrieve more useful contacts from.
Hashtags like #VA and #virtualassistant are also a great way to find tweets and profiles relating to the industry.
Last, but certainly not least, are all the virtual assistant Facebook groups out there. There are so many, each with their own benefits, that I would never be able to review each one separately. However, I have compiled this list of groups to get you started:
Two other Facebook groups I highly recommend are Freelance Heroes (great for general freelancing discussions and lead generation) and my own Online Productivity Tools & Applications group (great for insights into all the best tools and apps designed to boost productivity).
Over to you…
Are there any resources you use/have used that I haven’t mentioned? I’d love to hear about them. Drop a note in the comments or tweet me @JoHarris0n.
It had always been a dream of mine to start my own business and I finally got the opportunity to do so back in 2011. That’s when I founded my VA business and started the most exciting and rewarding stage of my life so far.
Furthermore, starting my own micro business (one that has 0-9 employees) enabled me to fulfil another dream and move to rural France. My business allowed me to work from literally anywhere in the world and, therefore, enabled me to operate from France.
Now, when I look back at the past six years, I realise how lucky I am to be living in a place I love and enjoying the best work/life balance I’ve achieved to-date.
But it hasn’t always been plain sailing and I’ve had to work extremely hard to build my profile and establish a professional network of clients, partners and supporters.
You see, the problem that many micros businesses, like mine, have is that they lack the huge marketing budgets of some of the bigger players in the market. This is why having a supportive professional network is so vital.
For this reason, I grab with both hands any opportunity I get to help out other micro businesses and that’s why I’ll be happily supporting Micro Biz Matters Day on January 12, 2018.
Micro Biz Matters Day is the brainchild of Tina Boden and Tony Robinson OBE, who founded Enterprise Rockers back in 2012. The idea is that on January 12 people will spend 12 minutes of their day (roughly the time it takes to have a short coffee break) to help promote micro businesses.
Even if you don’t run a micro business yourself, you’ll undoubtedly have clients or people in your own professional network who may have certain requirements; requirements that could be satisfied by a micro business.
By promoting these micro businesses on your various social media channels, you’ll inevitably boost their profile and perhaps even get them seen by decision-makers from other companies.
You can even get involved now by using the #MicroBizMattersDay hashtag to raise awareness of the upcoming event. Then, on January 12, if you’ve got 12 minutes to spare, why not consider helping even further by taking one or more of these suggested actions.
Just 12 minutes of your time could make a huge difference to micro businesses that have a huge amount to offer but maybe aren’t getting the full exposure they deserve.
Find out more about #MicroBizMattersDay by visiting the website or following the Twitter hashtag.
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