Do your workflows enhance your business? Or do they hold you back? Do you even have effective workflows in place, or are you scrambling to get tasks done and solve the problems that arise each month? It’s a common issue among many businesses, in that you and your team are so caught up in managing the day-to-day, there never seems to be the time to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Yet, getting the right workflows in place is essential for saving time and improving efficiency.
What is a workflow?
A workflow is a set of actions and results that must be performed in order to get a job done. To map out a workflow, you can use digital tools and software, stick notes to a wall, or even use good old-fashioned pen and paper to recreate the processes and show them as a flow chart. This gives you a visual, step-by-step guide to how things are currently working and who is responsible for each part of the process. Having a bird’s eye view makes the big problems obvious, or could highlight the smaller sticking-points you were not aware of, putting you in the position to make effective changes.
Taking the time to map out your current workflows is key to getting a full understanding of how your business runs. To get the most from mapping workflows, begin with the areas of your business that cause you the most hold-ups. This helps you to get the urgent changes in progress and bring the most benefits to your business.
If you have a team of staff, a workflow map means everyone knows exactly what is expected of them, and in what order. When looking at workflows, it is important to get input and feedback from team members who are carrying out the processes, as they know first-hand what works well and what the hurdles are.
Mapping workflows allows you to create simple processes to save time, such as automating actions that are repeated frequently. For example, in setting up email auto responders or creating templates to use for common documents, you and your team are already saving time and energy. When you begin to look at your workflows in more detail, you will see even more ways to improve efficiency. No matter how busy your day-to-day operations are, it is worth taking the time to map workflows because the benefits are exponential.
Benefits of Effective Workflows
Effective workflows can help simplify tasks, cut out unnecessary steps that are a waste of time and productivity, and create a streamlined approach that runs almost on auto-pilot. This not only benefits your own team, but efficient workflows create a good experience for your customers and clients.
Effective workflows set standards for your business that are always upheld and can be relied upon by yourself, your team and your clients. It eliminates unnecessary work, reduces errors, saves time and boosts productivity. Not only that, but when jobs are broken down into smaller tasks, it lessens that sense of overwhelm that contributes to work-stress.
It’s amazing how many positive effects come from efficient workflows, not only for a business but also for the team behind it. When everyone is working ‘from the same page’ it increases communication, team spirit and even brand image. It’s a win-win for everyone involved, from business owners and staff to customers or clients.
Ready to start?
When you are caught up in the daily grind of running of your business, it can sometimes feel overwhelming to stop what you are doing to map workflows, or review existing ones. As an online business manager (OBM) I can help you improve the way you work, creating a more efficient and productive environment from which you can drive the growth of your business. If that sounds good, get in touch to see how we could work together!
Tools help us to organise and manage work effectively and efficiently, and as many small businesses and entrepreneurs use them, there are an increasing amount available. From CRM systems and project management, to email marketing and workflow automation, there are hundreds of tools to choose from. So, how do we know which is best for the job? Here’s a quick guide to ten of the best tools every small business should use.
- Asana – a tool that allows multiple teams to work on multiple projects. Tasks can be viewed as lists or scheduled into a calendar, and messages or updates to do with tasks are clear to see. Asana can email your team each day to remind them of their daily goals. Its intuitive interface makes it one of the most popular management tools in use.
- ClickUp – an effective tool for teams to collaborate on multiple projects. There are some cool features that make it different from Asana, such as being able to turn comments in to tasks to assign to others, plus its Forever Free plan means you can use it for unlimited projects and unlimited users.
- MailChimp – with MailChimp, you can manage your email subscribers, set up auto-responders, send lead magnets, and split-test campaigns to see what works well. You can also create templates to save you time writing emails, plus it provides excellent real-time tracking of how people respond to your emails, such as who opens them, what links are clicked, who unsubscribes and what email addresses bounce. This popular email marketing platform has a free plan to get started with.
- InfusionSoft – this tool is great if you want everything that MailChimp does, but combined with some awesome customer relationship management (CRM) features. Use InfusionSoft to help convert leads into sales, segment your subscribers to send specific emails to different groups, and use the built-in ecommerce platform to sell to them directly.
- Hootsuite – a useful tool that manages all your social media platforms in one place. You can pre-write and schedule your tweets and posts in advance, respond to new comments, see your feeds and new followers all within Hootsuite. This saves you hours of time going between social media platforms and makes it easy to engage with followers.
Files and Documents
- Google Drive – Google Drive makes it easy and convenient to share and store files. This cloud-storage platform means that anyone can view a file provided they have internet access and an invite. For business owners, you can allow team access so people can work in collaboration on documents and spreadsheets, and they are synced in real-time. That means that anytime someone views a file, it is always up-to-date. In addition to file sharing, it is also easy to connect with your team through chats and video using Google Meet.
- Calendly – an absolute time-saver when it comes to arranging meetings and calls, Calendly allows you to communicate your availability through a link, and customers or clients can book a call when it is convenient for them. This simple scheduling program syncs with your calendar, so you always know who is booked in and when. It also integrates with Zoom and Microsoft Teams. The free version is ideal for one user, and the price is low for other plans with more features.
Customer Relationship Management (CRM)
- HubSpot –a marketing and sales platform that is full of features to help attract customers, sell to them, and turn them into repeat buyers. It has the tools ready to create a fantastic customer experience as they journey through the sales process and learn more about your brand. It includes features such as email marketing, advert software, website tools and a service hub where you can collaborate with your team. HubSpot is an all-in-one solution to scaling up a business.
- Zoho – this CRM platform is similar to HubSpot, however it is more streamlined in terms of features. For example, it does not have the team collaboration ability that HubSpot does, but not all business owners want an all-in-one solution. Although the CRM part of HubSpot is free, Zoho offers cheaper pricing plans overall.
- Zapier – this platform allows for easy sharing of information between apps, helping to automate workflows. Connect two or more apps to create a ‘zap’, which then triggers more actions that you set, automating those repetitive tasks and saving you time. With over 3000 apps to choose from, there is not much that Zapier can’t connect!
Using the right tools for business is a must, as working efficiently saves you time and money. When you are not chasing to keep up, you can put your energy into developing and scaling your business further. If you are looking for advice on setting up systems to help you work smarter, or would like help to implement the right tools for your business, feel free to get in touch!
Sometimes the words ‘Virtual Assistant’ (VA) and ‘Online Business Manager’ (OBM) are used interchangeably. While both are support roles for a business, there are some key differences between the two. If you’ve been considering hiring a VA or OBM, knowing the difference will help you decide what level of service you need for your business.
What is the role of a VA?
When your business grows and tasks become too much to handle with the capacity and resources you have, outsourcing to a VA is a great option. Whether it is help with general admin, or specialist tasks such as social media management, a VA has the expertise to take on many common business processes on your behalf. A VA takes direction from you, so when you want help, you send your VA tasks for completion.
A VA often works for a number of clients, each for an agreed amount of hours per week.
What does an OBM do?
An online business manager is less task oriented than a VA, rather they focus their expertise on helping you manage your business to drive growth and increase revenue. Partnering with an OBM means you allow them to understand your business inside out, and use their knowledge to work independently and manage things as they see fit. The advantage with this is that you do not have to micro-manage, an OBM can solve problems and keep your business running smoothly without your input.
Another advantage of working with an OBM is that you can take time off work or put your effort into new projects without worrying about the details of your existing business. Your OBM handles it all!
Adding to the confusion between the two roles, there may be some VA’s that also offer OBM services, but an OBM typically dedicates more time to their clients and has a deeper level of business management knowledge. An OBM tends to have fewer clients, and charges a higher rate due to their higher level of business acumen and expertise.
Do you need an OBM or a VA?
The level of help you need, how much control you are willing to hand over, as well as your budget, will be factors in deciding whether to hire a VA or an OBM for your business.
If you are looking for someone to oversee the complete management of a project, want to hand over the running of some parts of your business, or need help with planning and strategy to take your business forward, an OBM is the right choice for you.
If you need more staffing power to speed up day to day tasks, you like to keep a close eye on your operations, or would prefer to hand over the less exciting jobs to free up your time, a VA is there to help.
It is easy to see why the two roles are often confused with one another, as there is some overlap with the types of activities that a VA does, and an OBM will oversee. But when you really understand the difference, the two roles are distinct.
There are many great reasons to hire an OBM, especially for small business owners and entrepreneurs who typically lack a balance in their professional and personal life. There may also be a point where you feel as if you are spending too much time managing your business, and not doing the creative thinking that made you start your business in the first place. Whatever the reason for hiring an OBM, it can make a huge difference to your time, stress levels and overall well-being, as well as enabling new business growth and direction.
If you are looking for an OBM to help take your business forward, feel free to get in touch.
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.