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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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How to Cultivate Social Media Relationships (Outside of Social Media)

cultivate2Social media has forever changed the way we connect and communicate with people all across the globe. I’m always amazed to see the many various states – and countries – in which my followers reside. There’s no question that social media has fostered relationships that simply wouldn’t exist without this technology. Although social media helps to make communication easy and automated, there’s one very important aspect of relationship building that we must never put on autopilot or take for granted.

To cultivate meaningful (as well as beneficial) social media relationships, we must continue to build this connection outside of social media alone. Here are four important practices to help you foster your relationships and make yourself more than just an avatar.

Make it one-on-one

Following or friending a contact is only the first step, yet so many of us stop there and think we’ve built a meaningful relationship with someone. Sure, it’s exciting when your favorite celebrity follows you back on Twitter, but this hardly means you’re anything more than a number. To take it one step further, you have to seek out one-on-one interactions.

Once you get a good interaction going with someone on social media, such as a retweet, a like or a comment, follow-up with a private message (or even better an email) to continue the conversation on a more personal level. This could be a potential client, someone you admire or someone who has a question for you. While it’s not exactly face-to-face, in the virtual world, this one-on-one interaction makes you feel like you know the person on a much deeper level and is an important step in building a meaningful relationship outside of the massive, public social media platforms.

Reciprocate

It’s what every social media guru preaches, yet so often we still disregard this advice. To build a meaningful social media relationship, you must both give and take. If you have a connection that loyally supports you by retweeting, commenting, liking and sharing – look for opportunities to do the same for them!

The reason so many of us fail to do this is because we can’t rely on platforms like Hootsuite or Socialoomph to monitor this for us. Sure, they can tell us who interacted with our posts, but we need to take it one step further and closely follow our feeds, looking for appropriate times to reciprocate such support for news our contacts share. In doing so, we build mutual trust, respect and friendship that lay the groundwork for a meaningful relationship.

Put a face with a name

Any in-person, social function like a networking mixer, awards dinner or happy hour is a prime opportunity to take your social media relationships offline. There’s always that awkward moment when you know you’re already connected with someone on Linkedin, Twitter or Facebook, but when you meet them in person for the first time you still introduce yourself like you’re complete strangers. Stop the madness!

So long as you’ve kept a clean and professional relationship with them on social media (i.e. no stalking or creepy personal messages), there’s no shame in acknowledging you’re already connected with them. Introduce yourself and let them know you’re connected online; they might be thinking the same thing but don’t want to say it. This will put a (real) face with a name and show that you’ve done your homework. It will also make you memorable. Which brings me to my final point…

Be memorable

To make yourself more than just an avatar, you must first make yourself someone worth remembering. Out of all the people who contact me for various reasons, I’ve found the most memorable ones to be those who feel the most genuine. It’s easy to spot a message that was written just for you versus one that’s being sent out to an entire contact list. Private messages on social media are a great tool for cultivating meaningful relationships, but they’re also heavily abused. Be sincere in why you’re contacting this person – this will show through and help you stand out among the spam. It will also increase your chances of getting a response in return.

In a world where virtually everything is accessible online, the need to build personal and meaningful relationships becomes ever more important. It’s possible to accrue thousands of followers without a single one knowing you beyond your twitter handle. As a business owner or entrepreneur, you should strive for quality – not quantity – of connections. For it’s how well you engage your audience that ultimately determines whether they become a future client or customer.

Do you actively cultivate your social media relationships? Share how you do it!

 
 

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4 Reasons Why You Don’t Know What Your Business Needs

confusedOne of the biggest challenges of any business owner is the ability to identify what your business needs. You often find yourself in the trenches and bogged down with the day to day tasks that require almost all of your time. How can you also find the time – and unbiased perspective – to address the needs of your business before they begin to hurt your bottom line? This is a great question and one I wish more business owners would stop and ask themselves.

The first step to meeting the needs of your business is to acknowledge that you might not be the most qualified person to identify them. Here are four reasons why you might be missing what your business needs and how an outside perspective can help bridge this gap.

1. You’re too emotionally involved

As a business owner, it’s common to hold your livelihood as near and dear as your own child. But this strong emotional connection can hurt your ability to make the hard decisions that might be best for your business.  You want to nurture its growth and tend to handle it with kid gloves, when a swift and strong shakeup may be what’s really in order.

An outside perspective can help to eliminate the emotional bias that often exists for the entrepreneur or business owner. This is the most accurate way to prescribe the medicine to fix the problems, even if it doesn’t taste so good. It’s okay to be emotionally connected to your business, just be sure to call upon the advice of some outside eyes to give you a more accurate assessment.

2. It’s not your area of expertise

Being a business owner doesn’t automatically make you a jack of all trades – nor should you strive to become one. There’s a steep learning curve for even some of the most basic responsibilities like taxes, payroll and healthcare. It’s unfair and unrealistic to expect youself to also be a public relations/marketing expert among other things.

To put together an effective and strategic communications strategy, it’s perfectly alright to call upon outside help. Leave the experts to do what they’re most qualified to do – and this includes you! Focus on the aspects of running your business at which you excel and outsource the critical tasks that aren’t the best use of your time.

3. You don’t see the need for change

You might have a strong opinion about the communications strategy that is best for your business, but don’t let this be a reason to hide your head in the sand to other opportunities that might be more effective. I’ve personally seen many business owners who are in denial about their ineffective and outdated public relations strategy. They don’t see a problem and therefore don’t see the need for a new solution.

This is where an outside perspective can really be a valuable asset. It provides a fresh set of eyes and a higher level of expertise to identify what you’re business is missing. If you think your communications strategy is working perfectly fine, but your profits are waning month after month, this is a good indication that something needs to change, whether you see it or not.

4. You can’t take a step back to see the full picture

As a business owner, you’re often in the weeds of the day to day activities of your business. You may not have the chance to ever bring your head up to really see what’s going on from an outside perspective. This makes it very hard for you to see the full picture of how your business is functioning as a whole and where certain components may be missing.

Again, the key to seeing this bigger picture is to call upon an outside expert that can separate any bias or emotion to the business. Instead of focusing on all the little components that go into the day to day operations, an outsider will see your business as your target audience sees your business – which is one of the most valuable snapshots for really accessing the health of your business.

How well do you think you know what your business needs? Share your thoughts by commenting below!

 
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Posted by on February 10, 2014 in Business & Success

 

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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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The Best Way Out Is Always Through

robert frostWe’ve all endured our own challenges. They come in varying shapes and sizes and sometimes seem to pile on all at the same time. No part of life is immune to struggle; family, health, work and finances can bring us to our breaking point in the blink of an eye.

In the poem “A Servant to Servants” by Robert Frost, he captures a profound thought that I have used as my personal mantra during challenging moments. “The best way out is always through” I’ve taken this to mean that when you’re in the thick of things and feel like you want to turn around and go back. Don’t. Get though life’s challenges by continuing to move forward.

Here are some reasons why, even during the toughest moments, the best way out is always through:

It encourages taking calculated risks

I recognize that there are times when it’s better to cut your losses and walk away. However, that’s a different scenario than what I’m talking about here. Rather, Frost’s advice applies to well-thought out decisions or challenges from which you simply can’t turn away. Ones that you need to move forward with despite the overwhelming feeling to give up.

When choosing to venture down a path, first calculate your risks. Take time to really think through a decision before you dive right in. But once you decide it’s something worth doing, don’t turn back. Force yourself to work through the struggle. Whether it’s switching jobs, moving across the country, improving your health or getting married, be certain about your decision and then see it through the ups and downs.

You won’t lose the progress you’ve made

By turning around, you lose all the time and energy you’ve invested thus far. Seeing the challenge through until the end ensures that your progress is not wasted.

My time spent working on a statewide political campaign was a very trying time in my life. Fresh out of college, I was alone in a new city working long hours for terrible pay. I knew that Election Day was my finish line, but there were still moments when I wanted to give up. Had I turned back, I would have lost experience, friendships and job opportunities that ultimately led me to where I am now. The best way out of that stressful time in my life was to see it through.

You might be nearing the end

Just because you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, doesn’t mean you’re not nearing the exit. Reprieve could be right around the corner. Think back to a challenging time in your life. When was it at its worst and when did it end? So often the greatest struggle happens right before things improve.

If you had given up and turned back, your journey home would have been far longer than continuing until the end. Plus the guilt and regret you’d feel would make for terrible travel companions.  We don’t know what our journey is all about which is why we must continue to move forward with the hope that the best is always yet to come.

You’ll never have to wonder what could have been

Regret is one of the hardest emotions to bear. It will consume your thoughts and haunt you the rest of your life. The best way avoid regret is to see your challenges through. If you give up on your dream of starting your own business just because you encountered your first bump, you will always wonder whether it could have been a success if you stuck with it. Any chance for progress is a reason to keep moving forward. Don’t spend the rest of your life dwelling on what could have been – instead, turn it into what has become.

Progress is always accompanied by challenge. If it wasn’t, we’d be a far more accomplished society – but we wouldn’t appreciate it near as much.  Every challenge will result in change, but it’s up to us to make it positive. For the important lessons that life teaches us through struggle, don’t turn back and run away. Heed the advice of Robert Frost and keep moving forward until you’re out.

How do you approach life’s challenges? Do you agree or disagree that the best way out is always through?

 
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Posted by on January 27, 2014 in Business & Success, Life

 

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5 Reasons We Don’t Keep the Goals We’ve Set

Do not give upThere’s a saying that a New Year’s resolution is something that goes in one year and out the other. I think we can all relate to that notion to some degree. Now with several weeks of the New Year under our belt, the trendy appeal of setting a New Year’s resolution has worn off and the first taste of reality has set in.

How’s it going?

Maybe you’re still hanging in there strong or maybe you’re already starting to slip. Maybe you just never bothered to make a resolution to begin with because you know the result is always the same. Regardless of the current state of your New Year’s resolution, we have all set goals and had them fail. What I want to examine a bit further is the “why” behind this common scenario. Here are 5 reasons why we don’t keep the goals we’ve set.

1. Failing to identify clear goals

One of the most common reasons we fail to keep the goals we’ve set is because we really don’t know what our goals are in the first place. Be overly specific. Quantify your goals, if possible. Be clear on what you’re achieving and why it’s important to achieve it. Finally, set real deadlines for milestones within that goal to make each step more manageable. Remember, you can always alter the parameters of your goal at any time (and you should as you make progress). What’s most important is that you are quite clear on what it is you’re trying to achieve. This leaves less room for failure due to confusion.

2. Confusing planning with progress

One of the biggest mistakes of goal setting is thinking that planning to do something is actually accomplishing anything. We’ve all been there. We have the best of intentions to reach a goal and exert a lot of effort into mapping out our road to success. We’re proud with our work, pat ourselves on the back and then forget the most important part – to turn the plans into action! Planning is one step toward progress, but even the best plans will never materialize into anything more than a dream until we put them into motion. Don’t congratulate yourself too much on great plans for success; the hardest part is yet to come.

3. Lacking accountability

Goals are much more effective and “real” when we know someone else is counting on us to reach them. Without accountability, it’s easy to fall off track. Sometimes we’re simply too easy on ourselves and lack someone or something else to make us hang in there. You can build in accountability by working alongside a partner who wants to achieve a similar goal, logging your progress into an app or spreadsheet to make your progress visual or working with a mentor – even if that’s as informal as a friend or family member. Accountability makes us answer to someone more than ourselves and gives us additional motivation to succeed.

4. Leaving failure as an option

To successfully reach your goals, you must fully, mentally commit to them. Many people think they do this, yet still allow themselves a way “out” through failure. Don’t let this be an option. Instead, always have an alternative goal in mind. For example, maybe you wanted to lose 10 pounds in 2 months, but have slipped off track. Rather than saying “Oh well!” and diving into a bucket of ice cream, adjust your goal to lose 7 pounds in 2 months. Goals change just as life changes. If you have to alter the target you were originally aiming for, there’s no shame in that – hey, maybe you’ll even make it a little more challenging overall. Just don’t stop cold, always keep progressing forward.

5. Forgetting the consequences

So often we fall off the wagon not because we forget the benefits of achieving our goal, but because we forget the consequences of failure. Sure it sounds nice to have a goal of growing your business by 50 percent; what entrepreneur wouldn’t want to do this? Seeing the benefits is the easy part. The more critical component that is often overlooked is the repercussions of not reaching your goal. Maybe this business growth is a necessary lifeline for saving jobs or putting food on your table. If you don’t achieve it, you’ll be forced to find a new job or layoff employees that you value and trust. Whatever the consequences, make them real. This will turn on your survival mode and tap into an even stronger will to succeed.

To sum it all up, the process toward reaching a goal is long and winding. Thinking that it’s going to be anything easier is the first common mistake we make. It takes planning, commitment and accountability to be truly successful. Even more importantly, it takes a strong desire from within to get across the finish line. Constant motivation and encouragement from others is not sustainable for long-term success. We must find our own fire and use it as fuel during the most trying moments.

What are some of the reasons you’ve identified for not being able to keep the goals you’ve set?

 
4 Comments

Posted by on January 20, 2014 in Business & Success, Life

 

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Appearance vs Experience: How social media has changed what we value

taking a photoHow often would you say you check your social media news feeds and see a picture of a friend on vacation, enjoying a fancy dinner, attending an expensive sporting event, meeting a celebrity or buying something big like a car or a house? I would venture to say this is likely an everyday occurrence. It’s common for social media to attract information such as big announcements or fun experiences, but what’s concerning is the trend of sacrificing the full enjoyment of these experiences in order to amplify their appearance.

We are becoming a society that is more focused on the appearance of our life experiences than we are with the actual enjoyment our life experiences. We can no longer appreciate a Valentine’s Day dinner unless we first check-in to the restaurant on social media, share a picture of our pricy entree and finish with an overly mushy (and overly personal) post about our significant other. Why do we need the validation of our social networks to confirm that life is good? Your vacation still occurred whether it’s on your Facebook newsfeed or not and your new car still exists even if your Twitter followers haven’t seen a photo. But maybe the reality of our lives is no longer enough. Maybe now we feel we need a broader audience to really enjoy life’s pleasures. This thought begs the following question…

Do we value the appearance more than the experience?

If you have ever paused, recreated or staged a moment so you could take a photo for Facebook, then the answer is yes. If you have ever updated your status in the middle of a romantic dinner, on vacation or during a massage, the answer is yes. I know I’m just as guilty of this crime as many of you may be and worse yet, it’s a hard habit to break! Next time you’re experiencing something really fun or unique, resist the temptation to update your social media. It seems downright unnatural. In particular, Facebook is becoming a “brag book” where we seek approval and validation for almost everything we do in life. It’s simply not accurate, and a little absurd, to measure the importance of such special moments by the number of “likes” a photo receives. We need to reverse this trend by refocusing on the experience over the appearance. We need to disconnect, even briefly, to allow ourselves a chance to take in the memory of a moment.

While social media has become the catalyst for this problem, it is a platform for sharing. There’s no reason not to update your networks with good news or a photo of something you enjoy. This is only cause for concern if in doing so you diminish the real-life experience for yourself. If you’re too busy trying to capture everything on your iPhone, the world is going to pass you by. Sure you’ll have photos to remind you of these great memories, but wouldn’t you rather simply live them first hand?

Have you seen examples of this emerging trend? Maybe you’re even a contributor. Where do you find your enjoyment – in the appearance or the experience?

 

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