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Category Archives: Entrepreneurship

The One Question Every Successful Entrepreneur Must Be Able to Answer

top three priorities

One of my favorite shows currently on TV right now is Shark Tank. It feeds my entrepreneurial spirit and ignites a lot of creative (and sometimes cooky) ideas that I could only wish to have the opportunity to present to this impressive audience of venture capitalists.

All that aside, the reason I really love watching this show is because of the pearls of wisdom these experienced entrepreneurs spout off that have inspired quite a few blog posts – this week being no exception. On an episode from a few weeks back, it was Barbara Corcoran who said “Never have I ever met a successful entrepreneur who is unable to answer this one question.”  The question?

“Tomorrow when you wake up and go into the office, what are your top three priorities?”

This question is deceivingly simple. Try answering it off the top of your head right now. When I tried to do the same, I knew I had the answers, but when put on the spot, I found it hard to quickly put these key priorities into succinct bullet points. This doesn’t mean I’m doomed to fail as an entrepreneur, but it did make me want to sit down and put some thought into my top three priorities right now. Should I ever “bump” into Barbara Corcoran, this would be my answer to her question:

1. Continue to build quality relationships with my existing clients

In the pursuit of new clients, I never want to take for granted the awesome ones I currently have. I’ve already put the effort into earning their business, building a relationship with them and becoming efficient at the tasks I do for them month after month. It is a valuable use of my time to keep these existing clients happy and on board because trying to replace them is far more costly.

2. Selectively target new clients

Once I devote the time to keeping my current clients engaged, I need to continually fill my pipeline with ideal prospective clients. I’m lucky to be in a position where I can be selective with the new clients I choose to take on. I know the size, industry and vision of companies I best serve and these are the ones in which I’ll devote my time to pursuing. Smaller clients or ones that don’t quite align with my services may still find me, and I’m happy to see how I can help, but they are not the ones that I will actively put my resources into pursuing.

3. Find ways to automate my tasks and become more efficient with my time

I’m a consultant and sole proprietor by design. This means I must carefully guard my time and find ways to be extremely efficient as I take on additional clients if I want to continue to enjoy the benefits of the 80/20 Principle. It is my goal to find ways to automate my tasks or become more efficient at completing them so that as I take on new clients, I’m not working more, I’m simply filling the bandwidth my efficiency has opened up.

Whatever your top three priorities are right now says a lot of about the current state of your business/career and your entrepreneurial style. Maybe they even point out some areas where you need to refocus. They should address your immediate needs, but also plan for future growth and strategic change. Having your top three priorities locked and loaded serves a purpose far greater than simply impressing someone who asks. They give you that laser focus each and every day that is at the core of every successful entrepreneur.

Are you able to easily answer this question? Share your personal top three priorities by commenting below!

 

 

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The Easiest Way to Find Your Passion

Live-with-Passion

What do you want to be when you grow up? It’s a question we have all been asked at least once in our lives by a teacher, guidance counselor or parent trying to steer us in the right direction of a fulfilling career. Can you recall how you answered? I’m willing to wager that a vast majority of us never became what we thought we wanted to be when we were young, but don’t take this to mean you’ve failed your childhood self.

This question was never going to help you find your dream career or perfect job, because it doesn’t ask the only thing that really matters. What gets you excited?

The easiest way to find your passion is to identify what excites you. What energizes your soul? What puts that spark in your eye? What would you choose to do every day, again and again, for the next 100 years? This is what excites you, this is where your passion lies and this should become (at least part of) your career.

There may be some ideas swimming around in your head right now, but before you storm in your boss’s office with your two-week notice, let’s cover just a few more important details about turning your passion into a career.

Why excitement matters

It doesn’t take too much searching to find someone who has chosen a particular career path because it’s easy, stable or lucrative. While these aren’t necessarily bad characteristics of any job, without it also involving your passion, you will spend the majority of your life deferring your happiness to the weekends or retirement.

Excitement and passion for your job also helps you to excel in your field. When you love what you do, you take pride in your work and strive to be better at it each and every day. A job should do more than provide a pay check, it should provide a stage for you to showcase your best talents to the world. Pursuing a career that excites you will ensure you look back on your life’s work with satisfaction.

Understanding what really excites you        

If you’re asked “What excites you?” you might answer “Sports.” But we have to dig deeper. Simply saying “sports” is too broad of answer that doesn’t give us a clear indication as to what exactly about sports excites you. There are countless options.  Is it the element of competition, the energy of the crowd or the impressive athletic performance that you enjoy the most?

To better pinpoint your passion, we must peel away the layers of your initial answer by asking “Why?” at least five more times. For every answer, turn it into a question and ask yourself again. If you initially answered, “I like sports because of the element of competition.” Then ask, “Why do you like the element of competition?” This may seem redundant, but you’ll be surprised as to how it identifies what really excites you.

Turning excitement into a career

Once you have a narrow focus on your true passion, you will find that there are many career options that will allow you to tap into your passion on a daily basis. You may also be surprised with how different each option is. For me, it was foremost my passion for creative writing. The communications field obviously provided an opportunity to utilize this passion, but so did political campaigns, speech writing, website design and advertising agencies, to name just a few.

It’s important to think beyond the literal interpretation of your passion. Sure, you may be passionate about eating baked goods, but you have more options than becoming a baker. This love for food can also be turned into a passionate career as a food blogger, marketing director within a snack food company, food photographer or graphic/web designer that specializes in web sites for bakeries. Get creative and keep an open mind! A job will still involve work (sorry, there’s no way around that) but when it taps into your passion, even the work will become a labor of love.

If we want to reverse the dangerous trend of seeking careers solely for security and stability, we need to stop asking “What do you want to do?” or “What do you want to be?” And instead start asking, “What gets you excited?”  This is the easiest way to pinpoint your passion and ensure a life’s journey filled with fulfillment and joy.

Where does your passion lie? Share your own search for inspiration in the comments below!

 

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4 Ways to Make More Money Without Raising Your Rates

full piggy bank

No matter the size or industry, there is one thing every business has in common – the goal to make more money. Once you’ve established yourself in the market and increased the demand for your goods or services, it’s common sense to slightly increase your prices as well. However, too many years of this gradual price-creep can eventually price you out of the market and lose you clients.

It’s important that all business owners realize that simply slapping on a higher price tag isn’t the only way to make more money. Instead, think strategically and put the effort into learning how you can better serve your existing customers. In doing so, you will see that there are at least four different ways to make more money without raising your rates.

1. Restructure existing contracts

At least once a year, you should sit down with each of your existing clients and review their current contracts. Foremost, you should be doing this to be sure that your services are meeting their changing needs. Additionally, this provides an opportunity to present new ways in which you can help them.

Restructuring your clients’ existing contracts by taking out the services that aren’t producing a good ROI and replacing them with new services that will gives you the ability to bundle these services with a new price tag. In the end, the client is a new and more effective package of services and you are getting a new contract that reflects your current pricing.

2. Turn one-time projects into monthly retainers

In my line of business, I have both ongoing (retainer) projects and one-time projects. I have a found a lot of value in getting to work with a client on a small, fixed-timeline project, growing a relationship with them and then suggesting ways in which I can help them on an ongoing basis.

For example, I might be hired to re-write the content on a client’s website. Seeing that this new website also has a blog section, I might suggest my monthly blog writing services to help take this workload off their hands. I’ve now created a reoccurring stream of income that has the potential to be much greater than that initial project—all without having to raise the price of my website copywriting services.

3. Work with vendors who offer a referral program

This is such a smart, but commonly untapped, revenue stream. I work with many different vendors including professional graphic design artists, printers, website designers and marketing consultants. I’ve also developed a referral program with many of these vendors.

In some cases, I receive a percentage of the total cost of services they complete for a client and in other cases it’s a one-time referral fee. No matter the structure, this is an extra source of income that isn’t billed to the client at all. It’s the value or working with vendors you know and trust and have the best interest for each of your businesses in mind.

4. Become more efficient with your time to increase your bandwidth

The reward for good work is more work, right? Well, the more efficient you can become at completing the work for your existing clients, the more bandwidth you will have to take on additional work – and earn additional income.

I’ve found that after working with any client for a quarter, I can complete the tasks quicker and with better quality. There’s a steep learning curve for sure, but once you get past that you will also become more efficient with your tasks. Whether you choose to use this extra bandwidth to take on more clients or to simply schedule in some relaxation, there is value in this time!

Bonus tip: Over deliver with quality and customer service. One of the best and most basic ways to ensure a steady pipeline of leads is to inspire your current clients to make word of mouth recommendations for your services to their network. Before you spend your time attending business mixers and networking meetings, first put the effort into making sure your current clients are fully satisfied with your work. This will make them want to talk about you to everyone they know. And not much is more powerful than a glowing word of mouth referral to a second-degree connection!

Have you used any of these ways to make more money without raising your rates? Join in the discussion by commenting below!

 

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The Value of Diversifying Your Customers and Clients

diversify-your-clients

No matter the industry, it is always beneficial to diversify your portfolio of customers and clients. Simply put, it prevents you from placing all your eggs in one basket. It also helps to keep your day to day work interesting, not monotonous.

Here are six types of clients of which every business should have at least one. Depending upon the types of services you offer, your model might best serve just one or two of these categories. However, the pros and cons associated with each present some compelling reasons as to why you should strive to diversify and spread out your clients. In the long run it will help you balance your ups and downs and achieve a valuable book of business.  Let’s take a look…

The longstanding clients

Pros: These clients have been with you since the start. At this point, you intimately understand their business needs and personal preferences. You’ve become very efficient with completing their work after earning your way through the learning curve. In addition to being good clients, they have also likely become good friends.

Cons: Being with you from the start often means you’ve also “grandfathered” them into some pretty nice pricing. Unless the scope of their work dramatically changed, you likely haven’t had the opportune time to raise your rates with them. The level of comfort and closeness within your relationship can prevent you from making firm business decisions because you value their loyalty and don’t want to do anything to damage it– even if it’s the best decision for you.

The new clients

Pros: In contrast to the longstanding clients, new clients offer you the ability to quote your prices at today’s rate – no grandfathering needed. They are also a breath of fresh air that embrace the suggestion of new tactics and strategies.

Cons: There’s definitely a learning curve with taking on a new client which is why you don’t want ALL your clients to be new at the same time. It can take awhile before the time you’re putting into this account will finally start being equal to your hourly rate. There’s also the uncertainty of “Do they like me?” or “Are they going to stick around?” that’s more certain with longstanding clients.

The big clients

Pros: Big clients (usually) mean big paychecks. They have the budget to hire you for a variety of services that allow you to showcase all that you are capable of and deliver full results.

Cons: If you should have a big client fall off, it can be devastating to your bottom line. While it’s a goal for many business owners to have fewer, but bigger clients, this will most certainly lead you to placing too many eggs in one basket. They can also be very demanding and because they’re paying you a pretty penny can expect unreasonable amounts of your attention.

The small clients

Pros: Small clients (ideally) demand less time and attention because they have smaller accounts. Their services are well scoped to adhere to their budget and as a result, it’s easier to quantify the services that are delivering the best results.

Cons: The limited scope of service can also limit the full extent of the results you achieve. While ideally small clients take up less of your time, I haven’t always found that to be the case. This can be where you find business owners who are very “hands-on” to the point of micromanaging. Their limited budget may also lead to unrealistic expectations for what you can achieve on for them.

The challenging clients

Pros: We all benefit from a good challenge from time to time. These are the clients who keep you on your toes, ask a lot of questions and may even change their own mind 20+ times before a project is complete. Alas, there is a pro in here and it’s that these clients help make you a better worker for all your other clients. They also set the standard for “difficult client” that make all others seem like angels.

Cons: These are pretty obvious. Challenging clients can waste a lot of your time and even cost you money. They can also make you feel undervalued and underappreciated. If they move from “challenging” to “disrespectful” it’s time to let them go!

The easy-going clients

Pros: Compared to the challenging clients, these clients are a welcome relief. Sometimes it’s nice to finish a project and just have someone say “It looks great!” They’re also open to new ideas and don’t question the expertise for which they hired you.

Cons: Sometimes you wonder whether these clients even really have an interest in the work you’re doing for them, because they seem to just say yes to everything. How can you not have at least one question or suggestion to bring to the table? This leaves all the planning and strategizing up to you with little constructive feedback.

Do you have a diverse portfolio of clients? What steps do you take to achieve this? Share your thoughts by commenting below!

 

 

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8 Time Saving Hacks I Use Every Day

time saving hacks

Living life as a young entrepreneur, I’ve tried to maintain the mindset that it’s not about building a business, it’s about building a life. How we spend our time determines the life we lead. While I love my work, I also love time spent with my family, outside, exercising and relaxing. And for me, these are all rewards of being efficient with my time.

Over the years I’ve gotten very good at efficiency, so much so that it’s a running joke between people who know me well. No, I don’t have any more hours in a day than anyone else, but I have learned some extremely helpful time saving hacks that may make it seem that way to the outside world. They’re not magical or revolutionary, they simply use common sense that we often stray away from throughout life.

1. Start your day one hour earlier than everyone else

Rise and shine sounds a heck of a lot easier than actually doing it, but getting up early and getting a head start on work is one time saving hack that has made a huge difference in my day. I catch up on all my emails, knock off the easy or reoccurring tasks on my to-do list and prioritize the remaining tasks so I have a game plan of the rest of the day.

Even though it’s only an hour of work, I find that my clear and focused mental state in the morning, combined with the silence of everyone else sleeping, allows me to work with incredible efficiency. I turn that single hour into half a day’s work sometimes. And for someone who works from home as both an entrepreneur and a mom, knowing I have that uninterrupted hour is a Godsend.

2. Simplify your morning routine

Take a critical look at your morning routine and really think about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. The first time I did this, I was shocked at how many minutes I was wasting by not structuring my routine properly and by doing things that simply didn’t have any added benefit to the rest of my day.

From little things, like narrowing down the number of health and beauty products I use to the big things, like eliminating my morning commute by working from home, I have become an efficiency machine. If any part of your routine doesn’t help you look better, feel better or keep your household and business running, rethink why you feel the need to make it a part of your day. Habit alone is not an acceptable answer.

3. Block-schedule meetings and errands

Because I do double duty as a mom and a business owner, strategic scheduling is a must. Finding a block of time for a meeting (that doesn’t include my son as a tagalong) can be harder than snagging a dinner reservation at one of the swankiest restaurants in L.A.

One day a week, my husband will work from home and free me up to see clients, attend networking meetings and have some uninterrupted work time. So, I try and fit as much in as I can into these days. What I’ve found is that even without my “mommy duties” as the catalyst for this type of scheduling, planning my meetings and errands in blocks of time is incredibly efficient. When possible, I’ll schedule meetings back to back in the same coffee shop where clients can come to me and I always incorporate stops at the bank or post office while I’m already out.

4. Complete reoccurring tasks in batches

Whether they’re part of running a business or running a household, we always have those reoccurring tasks that need done daily, weekly or monthly. For me, some of these tasks happen to be writing for my blog, paying bills and making baby food. While these are quite a random assortment of tasks, I’ve found they have at least one thing on common – they can be done in batches.

Unless something is especially timely, I write and schedule my blog posts weeks in advance. I often write several posts in a day when I’m feeling particularly creative. For bills that are the same every month, I use the online bill payment feature through my bank to have these checks go out automatically. And for baby food, I have one full-blown cooking and freezing day a month that allows me to mess up and clean up the kitchen just once while enjoying extremely convenient (and cheap!) mealtimes the rest of the month. Identify your own reoccurring tasks and tackle them in quantity. This will save you so much more time than completing them one by one day after day.

5. Set time limits

This time saving technique is pretty straightforward. For those tasks that chronically take up more time than you anticipate, set a reasonable time limit and stick to it. At first, you’ll likely exceed your limit and have to stop for the day, but over time I’ve found that I’ve gotten more efficient because I really want to beat that timer! It also forces me to dive right into a project rather than wasting a half hour or more getting into the “right” mindset.

6. Unsubscribe from emails you don’t want to receive

This is something I started doing a couple of years ago and it’s completely changed the dynamics of my inbox. Any time we purchase anything online, attend an event or hand over our email address in exchange for more information, we can expect to be automatically added to a list serv. Maybe it’s minutes or maybe it’s weeks later, but we can also expect to begin receiving marketing emails.

Unless this is something you are interested in receiving, take the time to unsubscribe! Sure, this requires a few more clicks and maybe even some typing which takes longer than simply hitting delete, but in the long run it will absolutely save you time and preserve the space in your inbox for important messages.

7. Push people to communicate by email

For the majority of scenarios, email communication is a much more concise way to communicate. A phone call, for example, first requires both parties to be available at the same to connect. In today’s fast paced society that is becoming less and less likely. Next, there are the obligatory “How are you’s?” followed by some chit chat. Then, if you’re lucky, you’ll get straight to the root of the conversation. If the information is complicated or hard to remember, often one person will say “Can you email it to me?” And if you don’t connect on the first try, you might end up playing phone tag and spending even more time dialing in and checking your voicemail.

Do I make a convincing case yet? Whenever possible, I ask people to email me. I’ve also started removing my phone number from business cards so that if people feel the need to call, they can start by first emailing me for my number and I can assess whether it’s truly necessary. This isn’t to overlook the times when phone calls and face-to-face meetings are the better option, but for a hybrid mom, I love that emails can be answered on my time and don’t convey the screeching child that is likely in the background.

8. Learn to say no

People and things will always be vying for pieces of your day; you must become a conscientious keeper of your time. First, get your priorities straight. For me, this is running a business, being with my family, staying connected with friends, exercising and relaxing. For obligations that fall outside of these categories, I carefully consider whether or not they’re worth my time.

Just because someone asks you for a favor or wants to meet to sell you something you don’t need, doesn’t mean you have to say yes. Learn to say no (nicely) and you’ll be amazed with the amount of free time you’ll earn back.

What are some of your own time saving hacks? Share in the comments below and help us all to find a little more free time in our day!

 

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Make Your Business Strategy a Mile Deep and a Foot Wide

mile deep foot wideYou can’t scroll through your social media news feed without coming across an article, video or photo that has gone viral. And don’t forget about the sponsored posts that force us to consume information all because Facebook says it fits our demographic. This communication overload can lead us to believe that we must utilize every marketing strategy out there in order to grab the attention of potential clients or customers.

This goes against the longstanding wisdom to be “a mile deep a foot wide.” And by that I mean – be selective about where you dedicate your time and money and choose only the strategies that best fit your goals and audience.

Instead, I’ve been seeing a growing trend where business owners spread their time and budget thin by trying to do it all. While an effective communications strategy requires a variety of tactics, it also requires you to be selective with your tactics and then focus your full attention on doing them exceptionally well.

So why should you rethink your complicated and scattered communications, marketing, advertising or business strategy? Here are four key reasons why being a mile deep and a foot wide will better serve your business and your bottom line.

You’ll be able to devote more resources to what makes the greatest impact.

When you try to do it all, you can’t provide each task with the time and attention it needs to produce the best results. So often, I’ve seen business owners throw their hands up as to why – with all that they are doing – nothing seems to be making a difference. Instead of stopping to take a look at the chaos and disorganization of their strategy, they try and do more.  And so the downward spiral continues.

The only solution is to stop, breathe and take a critical look at where you’re devoting your resources. If the depth of your tactics is not yet a mile deep, your breadth should be no more than a foot wide. More simply put, first master the tactics that are producing the greatest results before adding in anything additional. Once you’ve found a good pace and are happy with your ROI, you can slowly explore with more variables.

You’ll be able to more easily identify what’s working.

If you begin your communications efforts with a massive strategy right out of the gate, it’s going to be difficult to identify exactly what tactic is helping you reach your goals. Changing everything at once will only add more confusion as to what’s really working – and what isn’t.

Instead, the “doing less, but doing it well” approach will allow you to more easily identify what each tactic is accomplishing as you slowly add them in one by one. If your web hits skyrocket over one quarter’s time and the only thing you changed was adding in a monthly e-blast, you can likely credit this as the catalyst.

Every strategy does not apply to every business.

When I help businesses to develop a comprehensive communications strategy, I’ve found that this is often misdirected with the desire to do everything they’ve ever seen another business do. I see innovative marketing techniques around me every day, but I know that only a fraction of these would work well for my business. The same is true for any business. Not every strategy is necessary, nor effective, for helping you reach your specific goals.

Business owners take note, you must consider many factors that make your business unique (i.e. industry, size, target customers, location) when selecting the tactics to best serve your business.  While you might be inspired by the multi-million dollar grassroots campaign of a powerhouse brand, this is not likely the most feasible or effective strategy to help you reach your specific audience.

You’ll preserve your sanity.

Finally, your ability to embrace a “mile deep and a foot wide” mindset will remove the stress and frustration caused by wasting your resources on a cluttered and misdirected communications strategy. Don’t you want to do everything to the best of your ability? Trying to do it all won’t allow you to meet this standard. Instead, narrow the breadth of your tactics and focus on their depth. Produce quality and consistent messaging that helps to build a loyal and attentive audience.

Do you practice the “mile deep and a foot wide” philosophy? Why or why not? Share your thoughts!

 
 

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Why No Experience is Ever a Waste of Time

waste of timeThe past several years spent starting my own business and living the out-of-the-box life of a young entrepreneur have provided me with as many new experiences as the 23 years prior. While “new experiences” may sound fun, exciting and even a little sexy, any business owner will tell you that there is a large range in altitude between the valleys and the peaks.

In my reflection upon these life experiences, the negative and positive, the helpful and hurtful, the uncomfortable and encouraging, I realized that I’ve developed an almost nostalgic sentiment around each one. Even the moments that could be viewed as mistakes or wastes of time have all helped to teach me something and bring me to where I am today. And I think we can all relate this back to our own lives.

Consider this thought for a moment. “If we do not find anything pleasant, at least we shall find something new.” This quote, attributed to Voltaire, challenges us to never see anything as a waste of time, but more as an opportunity to experience something new. Is this a reasonable request? I think so.

Here are four reasons why we should reframe what we’ve been dwelling on as past mistakes and wastes of time and view them simply as a new experience.  

Because something motivated you to make this decision

When you feel like something has become a negative experience or a waste of time, stop and recall what led you down this path to begin with. In many instances, passion, inspiration, hope for a better future or enjoyment guide our choices. While you may never know where the journey will lead you, it’s the best intentions with which you began that really matter.

Because you choose your experience

We are the keepers of our own happiness and only we determine how we feel about any particular situation. There are some people who have really been dealt a tough hand, yet they live a life of contentment and gratitude. Then there are people who appear to have everything going for them, yet they couldn’t be more miserable. What sets each of these types of people apart is simply how they choose to experience life. We must choose happiness in order to be happy. And if we choose to never see a situation as a mistake or waste of time, then we will live with a lot less regret.

Because there’s always a bright side

Any experience – even a negative one – contains at least a pebble of happiness, if only we’re willing to look for it. To apply this to a challenging example, let’s say the experience was that your new business failed and you had to close your doors. As Voltaire would reason, this is not something pleasant, so we must then look for the “something new” to turn this into a positive experience. The bright side would be that now you have the opportunity to restructure your business model and try again, venture into a new line of work or simply spend more time with your family. The bright side will not always cast away all of the dark shadows, but it will at least restore some of your hope and happiness.

Because dwelling is not mandatory

By nature, I dwell. I dwell on the big things, the small things and everything in between. Sometimes I’ll continue to walk around with this weight on my shoulders, unable to remember what was bothering me in the first place. This makes it very easy for setbacks or negative life experiences to take a toll on my emotions. But I’ve gotten better. I now remind myself that worrying accomplishes absolutely nothing, so instead I get active. If it’s a problem I can’t solve personally, I go for a run to clear my head or start working on another project simply to feel in control. We determine how much we allow ourselves to dwell and the sooner we take our mind off of a negative experience, the closer we are to our next positive one.

Share your thoughts! Have you found any life experience to truly be a waste of time? How much does your mindset impact how you experience life?

 

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How to Outsource Work Without Losing Control

outsourcingAs a business owner or entrepreneur, your time is limited and there are only so many projects you can take on or directions in which you can be pulled before you feel like your head is going to explode.

Hiring a fulltime employee to help with this workload isn’t always the right answer, either. Sometimes the situation is better suited for a subcontractor who can tackle specific projects or lend the expertise that you’re lacking. Even if you know outsourcing work is the right answer for your business (and your sanity), it can still be a scary experience to relinquish control to an “outsider.”

Here are five key ways to outsource some of your business responsibilities without feeling like you’re losing control over the consistency and quality of the work you’re used to doing first-hand.

1. Be a part of the process

This starts at the very beginning of every project and carries out the whole way through. To maintain some control over the direction of your marketing or communications strategy or your overall brand, you have you be a part of the process. Yes, outsourcing is a wonderful opportunity to shift some of the work off of your plate and delegate it to others, yet you can’t completely disconnect from the project or you will risk becoming disconnected from a very important part of your business.

When working with a subcontractor, clearly define the roles you and everyone involved in the project will play. This will help to establish realistic expectations and clearly communicate with your contractor just how much or how little you plan to be involved. Even if you choose to only play a minor role, find a way to still be a part of the process.

2. Know what’s most important to you

It’s okay to have a few key things that are “non-negotiable.” This won’t necessarily make you a micromanager or stifle the creativity of your subcontractor, if done selectively. On any given project, you should have clearly defined goals for the work and standards to which it must adhere. When outsourcing your work, it’s the subcontractor’s job to satisfy these goals and standards, but it’s first your job to identify what’s most important to you.

For example, if you feel that the fact your business is 3rd generation family-owned is one of its most distinguishing factors, you may require your contracted copywriter to focus the web site’s content on this aspect. Select no more than 3 important factors (ideally one or two) and express these clearly from the beginning. Trust me; this will save both you and your subcontractor a lot of time and revisions in the long run and help them to share in your vision from the start.

3. Be accessible

When you can’t be reached, decisions will have to be without you and they may not be what you would have preferred. The lesson here is to be accessible to your subcontractors throughout the project. This will keep you involved in the process (as I stressed in my first point) and in control of final decisions.

So what are reasonable expectations for being “accessible?” Respond to emails or phone calls within one business day – or at least acknowledge that you’re working on an answer if one can’t be made in that time frame. As a business owner, it’s often the deadlines that you’ve set that the subcontractor is working to meet. If you become a plug in the process, you’ll either get cut out or have projects that stretch far past their due date. Both consequences can be avoided simply by being accessible when needed.

4. Select your contractors carefully

When looking to outsource work, one of the first areas you have complete control over is who you hire. Simply put, choose carefully.

You should take as much care in hiring a contract worker as you would hiring a fulltime employee. Even though they won’t be working in your office, they still need to mesh with the company’s culture and share in your vision. Overlooking this important decision will most certainly result in a disconnect between your existing messaging and branding and the work done by a subcontractor.

5. Check-in on a regular basis

This doesn’t mean micromanaging every task, but it does mean staying apprised of the work your contractor is doing for you and checking in with them on a regular basis. This will effectively address (and stop) any straying from your company’s brand and help to create cohesive and consistent messaging.

To establish an appropriate time frame for your regular check-ins, first think about the scope and length of the project. If it’s detail intensive or urgent, you should plan to check-in with your contractor at a set time on a weekly basis. If the project is ongoing, straightforward and consistent, you can scale back to checking in with your contractor monthly or quarterly. Remember to always be accessible in between these regular meetings as well!

Do you use contractors for any of your business’s responsibilities? How do you maintain control when outsourcing this work?

 
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Posted by on February 24, 2014 in Business & Success, Entrepreneurship

 

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The Virtual Work Environment: When it simply doesn’t work

virtual work environmentAs a consultant, I strive to run a lean business. I work from home and meet clients on location to eliminate the overhead of an outside office. I delegate work to additional contractors rather than taking on full time employees. And because I require merely an internet connection and laptop, I can and have worked from almost every location I’ve ever been in. The virtual work environment has suited me very well. My clients have also experienced the benefits through my pricing and availability. But as fun and flexible as working from home can be, I acknowledge that it simply doesn’t fit every situation.

Different personality types are better suited for the “home working” experience and depending upon the job description, a business may need an in-office employee to meet various needs. I’m a full subscriber to the virtual work environment, as it lends itself to my particular services very well. But before you start setting up your own home office, take into consideration these following work situations that shouldn’t go virtual.

When you need immediate responses.

I make the commitment to my clients that they will receive a response or acknowledgement of their message within one business day – often much sooner. In comparison to most email communications, this is quite a quick response time; however, it’s still not as quick as if I were sitting at a desk next to you. In-office employees allow for almost instant communication because you have the benefit of popping your head over a cubicle or hunting them down in the break room. If the job description requires immediate responses, a virtual position could substantially decrease efficiency.

When you thrive on social interaction.

This is when working from home may have nothing to do with the job, but everything to do with the person. I thrive on a quiet, uninterrupted work environment. I used to HATE having people drop-in just to chat or getting pulled into an impromptu meeting. I worked much less efficiently because of these distractions. But I’m an introvert. For others, these are not “distractions” but are part of the company culture that makes them feel like a team. They thrive on social interaction and pull their energy and inspiration from those around them. If you took this away, work would suffer.

When you don’t trust your teammates.

Trust influences how well tasks are accomplished when employees aren’t working face-to-face. When working virtually, you don’t have the benefit of building relationships as quickly as you do in a traditional office. It takes a lot longer to build up the feelings of trust and accountability toward someone you don’t see day to day. Distrust can also come from not knowing if someone is doing the work they need to be doing. It’s easy to assume your co-worker is snoozing on the couch at home while you’re slaving away on a project if you don’t trust them or have the ability to check-in on them as you do in a traditional office.

When you’re needed to serve various, undefined roles.

The final work situation that does not lend itself well to a virtual position is one in which you are the Jack of all trades. Think of an office assistant. Their job description might outline the role of answering phones, entering data and scheduling appointments. But in reality, they are likely asked to take on many additional projects to help around the office since they are there and available. In an office where it’s all hands on deck, virtual employees benefit from being “out of sight, out of mind” and are not utilized to their fullest. This leaves the in-office employees to pick up the slack.

Even though we just covered four situations that are not best suited for the virtual work environment, don’t get me wrong. There are still many, well-documented benefits. Studies show that home workers are more productive, happier in their jobs and less likely to leave than their office-bound peers.  Virtual working also saves money, is better for the environment and gives staff the flexibility that many people crave. But it’s equally important to note that “home working” simply doesn’t fit every situation. Technology can connect us from sea to sea, but it can’t completely replace the need for in-office employees.

 

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When In Doubt, Take the Next Small Step

small stepIn business and in life, being faced with different choices can be an overwhelming and paralyzing situation. We always want to make the “right” choice, the one that we can look back on years later and know we wouldn’t change a thing. But rarely are we afforded the benefit of hindsight. In a recent conversation with a client, I was discussing how difficult it can be to make decisions as a business owner. With the weight of the world on our shoulders, we worry that one poor choice can bring it all tumbling down. We are often forced to make decisions on limited time and limited information because if we took the time to fully outline every option, we would never move forward with anything. Therefore, one of the greatest accomplishments of any business owner is to empower yourself with the confidence to make decisions and stand behind whatever the outcome. When in doubt, take the next small step. You don’t have to act radically or nonsensically, but you must still move forward. Especially when you’re not sure of your footing, the best option is to simply take a single step in one definite direction. This is some of the best advice I’ve ever received. It’s obviously applicable to an entrepreneur, but I believe we can also apply it to all aspects of our lives, both personal and professional.  

In Business

I have written passionately about my experience as an entrepreneur and I advocate for other entrepreneurial hopefuls to “take the leap.” But with this major life decision, I must caution that you should still do it with some rationale. When I was confronted with the ultimate decision to either stay in my current job or turn my part time passion into my full time career, it was done as an initial small step that has since turned into a major life change. I began by first incorporating my business. Not only did this make my side work feel more legitimate, it was also a sound investment that has since saved me a lot of money (and headaches) on taxes. This started things rolling in the right direction. My next step was securing enough clients that I knew I could cover my bills. And the next step was the big one – resigning from my 9-5 for a life as an entrepreneur. When broken down, these were all single steps that turned into quite an amazing journey. Even now when I’m faced with wanting to make a change in my business, I pause, breath and identify the next small step. If I only looked at the big picture, I would easily overwhelm myself with how I get from point A to point B – especially when they appear oceans apart. Instead, move just one step in the direction you know you want to travel and do so with confidence!

In Life

For those of us who aren’t business owners or entrepreneurs, life is stilled filled with countless decisions we must make on a daily basis. Small choices like what to have for dinner or how to spend a free weekend are relatively easy to decide. But bigger decisions like buying a new car, building a house or going on vacation can add unwanted anxiety and unnecessary stress to our lives.  When in doubt, take the next small step. Begin by looking at your finances or researching the top options, but take one step forward! Big decisions shouldn’t be made overnight, but progress can still be made slowly and consistently to help you make a smart choice in the end. By taking small steps, you’re less likely to make a decision due to pressure, frustration or confusion and you’re more likely to enjoy the process and feel confident with the end result. Take a moment to think of a big decision you’ve been avoiding and identify one small step you can take today. It doesn’t need to be the end result, but it should at least put you one step closer!

No matter the scope or size of the decision, we have all encountered obstacles in our effort to move forward. Have you ever had difficulty making decisions? What’s the best advice you can give to become a more decisive person? Share your insight by commenting below!

 
 

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