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5 Ways to Build Your Personal Brand

personal brand

Whether you’re the business owner or the intern, building a personal brand is a powerful way for employees at all levels to increase their credibility and showcase their expertise. Everyday people have become celebrities all because of how they positioned their personal brand on social media and beyond.

We each have the ability and access to all the tools we need to start building our own brand today – and it’s quite simple! Here are five essential steps for building a strong and influential personal brand.

1. Define your area expertise

First and foremost you have to be able to clearly define your personal brand. Otherwise, how can you expect anyone else to? A powerful component of your personal brand is your area of expertise. Don’t be intimidated by the word “expert.” This doesn’t mean you need to be the most knowledgeable person in the world on a subject. Rather, you simply need to identify a subject that you know a lot about and for which you have passion.

2. Adopt a tagline

Once you know the personal brand you want to build for yourself, the next step is to clearly communicate it to the world. Just as a business adopts a tagline, so should you. Having a personal tagline might sound cheesy – and it can be – but only if you choose a cheesy tagline. If the personal brand you want to create for yourself is more professional and serious, there are endless options for a tagline that will also reflect this tone.

Once you’ve established a tagline, put it to use! Incorporate it into your personal website, blog, business cards and email signature. Use it when introducing yourself at networking events or in business meetings to quickly and clearly communicate who you are. A tagline will help keep your brand consistent and make it memorable.

3. Embody your brand from head to toe

While you may get caught up in building your personal brand on your website, blog and social media, don’t forget about the most valuable brand-building asset you have with you at all times – you! Your clothes, hair and accessories all impact the image you give off to the world and this should remain consistent with your brand.

If you want to be viewed as a respected professional, you need to present yourself as one. Give careful thought to your attire before heading out to a client meeting or networking function. Whether you do this or not, I promise you people will notice either way.

4. Create opportunities for other people to experience your brand

You can create an awesome brand for yourself, but if you don’t allow others the opportunity to experience and interact with it, it will have little impact. Just as a business puts great effort into promoting their brand, you should put effort into promoting yours too.

For a personal brand, this does not require the same tactics that businesses use. Not many of us have the budget (or confidence) to put ourselves on a billboard! Instead, maximize your online presence by creating a personal website, starting a blog and maintaining a strong social media presence. These are all great ways to showcase your area of expertise and give your network an intimate experience with your personal brand. In addition to the virtual world, get out in the real world too! Take advantage of speaking engagements, networking functions and other social events to get out in your local business community and represent your personal brand.

5. Be consistent

If you do nothing else when building your personal brand, be consistent! Think of any business that has built a successful brand; they do not waver from the core values it represents. All of their internal and external communications center on strengthening it. You should embrace this same level of consistency when shaping your own brand.

With every new business opportunity, consider whether or not it aligns with your brand. If not, it’s likely not in your best interest to pursue it. Your brand represents your morals, values and character. If your actions don’t align with the image you’re trying to create for yourself, you will never achieve a strong and influential brand. Instead, keep your personal tagline top of mind and use it to guide the way you present yourself to the world – in person, online and everywhere in between!

What steps have you taken to build your personal brand? Share your tips and tricks in the comments below!

 
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Posted by on July 21, 2014 in Business & Success

 

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Are You Making this Deadly Marketing Mistake?

danger sign

As business owners, we’re faced with some tough decisions. In order to make ends meet we sometimes have to tighten our budget and cut out the non-essentials. What any experienced business owner will tell you is that there are certain areas of a budget that should never make their way to the chopping block – marketing being one of them.

One of the most deadly marketing mistakes you can make is to halt your efforts in an attempt to save money. Scores of great strategies have been pulled before they have begun to payoff. That’s right; you invest all this time and money into creating and implementing a marketing plan, but pull the plug before things really get going. While this may save you a few bucks right now, it will most certainly hurt your bottom line in the long run.

Here are four ways you can avoid making this deadly marketing mistake.

1. When times are tough, don’t cut your marketing.

Every business will experience its ups and downs, its busy seasons and off seasons and its times of feast and famine. One of the worst things you can do when times are tough is to cut out your marketing or public relations efforts. After you’ve spent months engaging your audience, to completely go silent would undo all of your work up until this point. Whether you can see it or not, they are there and they are listening.

Instead, you may need to narrow down your tactics to those with the greatest ROI to adhere to a tighter budget, but you should never hit the big, red stop button. After all, it’s your marketing, public relations and advertising efforts that are going to help pull in more business which is the one thing you desperately need during a dry spell.

2. Set reasonable expectations for results.

Another reason businesses panic and pull the plug on their marketing efforts is because they don’t think they’re getting results. This is a deadly mistake because in reality you likely are achieving results, they just might not be the silver bullet you were expecting.

Set reasonable expectations. Learn to embrace the necessary slow burn of business growth that directly applies to your marketing efforts. You should value the consistency and quality of your results, not the sheer speed and quantity.

3. Measure progress in all forms.

Progress is not always obvious. Be open to looking for it in unexpected places or for it to produce different results than what you might have anticipated.

For example, your Facebook posts may not be getting more then 2-3 likes, but your analytics show that several hundred people have seen the content. You can also see from your blog’s stats that 20+ people a day are being pushed to your blog from Facebook. Those are some valuable results! When you do your research you might find that you’re achieving a whole lot more than what Facebook likes could tell you alone. This is all the more reason to stay consistent with implementing your marketing tactics.

4. Repeat your winners.

Don’t be afraid of repetition. Again, don’t be afraid of repetition. Sure, we always want to be coming up with new ideas and strategies to catch our audience’s attention, but don’t shy away from repeating something you know works for you.

Advertising guru, David Ogilvy believed repetition was an essential part of growing your readership. He felt that you should repeat yourself up to five times to see the full benefits of your messaging. People don’t always catch things on the first pass (Can you name the product the last commercial you saw was trying to sell you?) and repetition is an essential way to ensure consistent and clear messaging.

The importance of repetition is all the more reason to maintain balance with your marketing and public relations tactics. If you started a monthly newsletter or a bi-weekly blog, your audience will come to expect to hear from you at these intervals. When a month or two goes by without you “touching base,” you will quickly fall out of sight and out of mind. Stay top of mind by staying consistent with both your messaging and your strategy – and avoid making this deadly mistake!

Where have you seen this deadly marketing mistake being made? Share your examples by commenting below!

 
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Posted by on June 30, 2014 in Business & Success

 

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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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Take Back Your Time: How to stop wasting your day in meetings

man in gray suit holding big clock covering his face

Back when I worked the life of a 9-5er, meetings were a staple of my daily schedule. Short, long, painfully boring or engaging, these meetings would get tacked on my calendar until some workdays were almost entirely spent in a boardroom. Sometimes I played an active role, while other times my boss simply wanted me to “sit in” on the meeting – to help keep him awake or me from being productive, I’m assuming.

Don’t get me wrong, I certainly see the value of an efficiently run meeting; however, they should not take up the majority of your workday. The more time we spend in meetings, the less time we have for making actual progress.

As an entrepreneur, I’m fully in control of my schedule which has made me highly protective of my time. I don’t give just anyone access to it. I get requests to “meet-up” all the time and the majority offer nothing mutually beneficial. To help me more easily identify and pre-qualify meetings of value, I’ve developed a strategy that everyone should want to implement.

Before you accept one more invitation to yet another coffee meeting, first ask yourself these four questions to assess whether or not this is something deserving of a chunk of your valuable work day.

Does the conversation necessitate a meeting?

So often people will think they need a meeting, when really the conversation can be just as adequately completed over the phone or email. I get it. Some people are social butterflies and who doesn’t want to get out of the office now and then? But don’t use other people’s workday as a way to waste your own.

When someone first requests the chance to sit down and talk, dig a little deeper. Ask yourself (or even them directly) whether what they’re asking for has to be addressed in person. It may take several weeks to find a time to meet, while a phone call or email response can be fit in that day.

Is it mutually beneficial?

It’s okay to be selfish with your time. After all, you’re only given so much in your life and I promise you that on your death bead you won’t regret all those hours you didn’t spend in meetings.

Before you agree to meet with someone, be sure that the purpose of your time together is going to be equally beneficial to you both. Maybe they want to sell you something – and that’s fine. So long as it’s something you or your clients can truly use. Or if they say they just want to tell you more about their business, be sure that you’ll get time to talk about yours as well.

Is the location and time convenient for you?

At the root of why in-person meetings are often so inefficient is the time spent getting there and back. Unlike a phone call or email, you actually have to spend a considerable amount of time in transit  – and getting showered and dressed to look presentable.

If you decide that you’re going to make time for a meeting, make it convenient for YOU! Take control of suggesting the dates, times and especially the location. Early in my career, I would make the mistake of giving the other person free choice of the these things and would wind up traveling a half hour to an obscure coffee shop at a time that was utterly inconvenient with the rest of my day’s schedule. If they’re requesting the meeting, they should also be willing to accommodate you.

Could it grow your bottom line?

Back to the point of being selfish with your time, it’s not greedy to first question whether or not this meeting will grow your bottom line. It’s smart and it’s what every other successful professional is thinking as well – especially the one requesting the meeting with you. Of course there’s something in it for them, make sure there’s something in it for you as well!

Ask yourself if this meeting holds a direct or indirect potential to grow your bottom line. I stress to think indirectly here. Not everyone is going to deliver a hot lead in the first meeting; it can take months or years. But think about their connections, experience and influence. If they might be able to use any of these things to help you in the future, it’s worth building a relationship with them now.

Did they earn it?

Finally, make them earn that meeting! For me, I always appreciate sincerity and creativity. Mass messages or an email template that doesn’t even personalize the content with my first name will quickly get deleted without a reply. In contract, a personal message referencing something unique to me or my business lets me know that they did their homework and inspires me to do the same.

I’ve also seen some pretty clever “outside-the-box” techniques for requesting a meeting that have won me over. A hand written letter really stands out in the age of e-blasts. Also, it never goes unnoticed to reference a recent news article about the person’s business or a blog post they wrote that shows you’ve taken a careful interest in their work. The possibilities are endless!

Meetings are a part of building a business, but they can also become a distraction that prevents you from making progress. A request for a meeting doesn’t always have to be granted. Remember that you are the only person looking out for your own time and this is all the more reason to be strategic with how you spend it.

How do you prevent overloading your schedule with meetings? Share your tips and tricks by commenting below.

 
 

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Why Your Business Needs a “Human Element”

Make your customer feel like you're talking directly to them.

Make your customer feel like you’re talking directly to them.

Renowned businessman and advertising executive, Fairfax M. Cone once said, “Good advertising is written from one person to another. When it is aimed at millions it rarely moves anyone.” I couldn’t agree more. One of the best ways to achieve this intimate level of communication with your audience is by incorporating a “human element” into the way your business interacts with the world.

Before we venture on, I want to briefly address what exactly defines a human element. Businesses are run by people and they serve people, still communication can lose this person-to-person aspect if we don’t actively seek it out. The result is a business that feels sterile and disconnected from its audience. The human element adds a personal touch that makes you feel accessible and relatable. It’s incorporating staff photos on your website, using I/We language on social media, signing newsletters with your name, not just your business’s tagline …and letting people know the story of how and why you started this business to begin with.

There are many ways to create the human element within your business and the “how” greatly depends upon your target audience and industry. This is a whole other blog post altogether (so stay tuned!). As we begin our initial discussion on this topic, I first want to develop the urgency of “why.” Why does your business need a human element? Here are four compelling reasons that aim to satisfy this burning question.

1. To develop a one-on-one relationship with your customers

You should want to incorporate the human element into your business as a means for creating a one-on-one relationship with your customers. Maybe you have hundreds, even thousands of customers; you can still create the feel of a personal relationship with each of them through strategic communications.

When customers feel like they know the owner of the business on a first name basis, even if this is just from your website’s About Page or the auto-signature on each of your monthly newsletters, it makes a difference. Customers will develop a sense of loyalty to your business and feel valued. What this really boils down to is that they’re more likely to continue to do business with you in the long term and recommend their network to do business with you as well.

2. To make yourself relatable

In the eyes of your customers, the human element makes you, well…human. This is a good thing. Being human, even when that comes with flaws or weaknesses, provides common and familiar ground with which your customers can relate.

Take for example, a business owner who shares his personal story about how his company was created. Maybe this was the result of another business failure or maybe he came close to bankruptcy a time or two. Don’t mistake this for weakness; it is actually a powerful way to relate to your customers. It breaks down the misconceptions that the owner is some suit in a window office with his feet propped up on the desk. Instead, your customers will see you as a smart, hardworking businessman who has struggled for success just like everyone else. And most importantly, someone they want to do business with.

3. To make yourself accessible

Making yourself relatable and making yourself accessible are two different things – both can be accomplished by incorporating the human element into your business communication strategy. You want to also be accessible so that your customers feel like they can easily reach out to you with any question or concern and get a quick response from a real person.

Think of two vastly different customer service experiences you have had with two different businesses, one good and one bad. What made the bad one so terrible? If you’re like me, my bad experience was the result of a not receiving a timely response, or no response at all and being fed a prefabricated answer that didn’t really solve my problem. Even worse are businesses that don’t list an email or telephone number and direct you to a stagnant FAQ page that does even less to make you feel like your issue is being personally addressed. The human element makes you and your business feel accessible to your customers which goes a long way in keeping them happy!

4. To create a consistent voice

Lately, I’ve heard the term “human element” used when referring to a business’s social media. This is a powerful tool that can help you to create a consistent voice when communicating with your fans and followers. Being “human” with your audience also helps to create a distinct voice that further defines your brand.

There are endless examples of businesses that struggle to find their voice on their website, marketing materials and social media. They’re all over the place. One voice will be very formal and professional, while the other voice will be conversational. Customers like consistency because it indicates reliability. Get personal with the way you communicate and interact with your social media contacts. Engage them in discussion as a way to talk with them – not just at them. The human element requires to you get real with your audience which is a refreshing change from the old, stuffy way of communicating and will help give your brand further reach.

Why is the human element so important in your business? Share your thoughts in the comments 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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How to Become a Better Writer

good writing

To excel in any profession it takes both dedication and talent. From doctors and lawyers to singers and actors and everything in between, you must continually practice to stand out in your respective field. Writing – whether as a profession or simply as an everyday skill – is no exception.

Writing is the core of my profession, but it’s also an essential skill I use well outside of what earns me a paycheck. This is why I am always on the search for ways in which I can improve the effectiveness and efficiency of my writing.

Thanks to technology that directs us to resources and connects us with fellow writing professionals, there are more opportunities than ever to improve your written communication. So how do you narrow them down? Really, it’s trial and error to find the triggers that inspire you to become a better writer. I know I have spent years trying to find my own. While what works for one will not work for all, these are five launching points that provide a solid foundation for overall “good” writing and will help point you in the right direction.

Understand your purpose

Diving into a writing project before you fully understand exactly “why” you’re writing is like shooting an arrow before you’ve seen the target. Maybe you’ll get lucky and end up with a well-crafted piece, but the outcome that is far more common is mismatched content that reads more like a stream of conscious than strategic and intelligent thoughts.

To understand your purpose, first put it into words before you write anything else. For this very article, I organized my purpose and main points before I started writing. The title and bolded sections (the bones) were formed before I filled it in with content (the meat). If you struggle to identify a purpose, this is a big red flag that indicates a weak idea and lack of organization.

Find passion

Purpose is one very important component for quality writing, but so is passion. An article can have a clear purpose, but passion is what draws readers in and makes them want to consume the information. If you’re passionate about what you’re writing, you will be excited to sit down and put your thoughts into words. You’ll also enjoy reading and re-reading these words until they say exactly what you want them to.

But finding this passion can be a mental challenge. So often the fear of putting your thoughts into words, or a lack of confidence in your ability to do so, can overshadow your passion. Overcome these roadblocks by shifting your focus back to you – not your critics, competitors or writing idols – simply you. When you are writing for self-satisfaction, you will be open to embracing the same passion with which people dance when they think no one is watching.

Do it for yourself

For writing to become an enjoyment and not a chore, you must learn to do it for yourself. This is the point I just touched upon above, but I wanted to dive a little deeper into exactly how you learn to write for yourself.

If you have complete freedom to select your topic, first choose a topic about which you’re knowledgeable, curious or passionate. In doing so, you’ll be able to fully immerse yourself in the topic – and enjoy it! All good writers are able to gain some level of enjoyment in their writing. If your topic is strictly chosen for you, the angle with which you approach it becomes ever important. It’s possible to take the driest topic and turn it into something you enjoy (even if only slightly) and make the writing about you!

Put the effort into proofreading

One essential component of good writing that we can’t tip-toe around (oh and I’ve tried) is proofreading. Yes, it’s that element of writing that simply isn’t as fun as dreaming up big ideas and writing from the soul – but it’s absolutely necessary. Proofreading can be intimidating because it takes time and a very specific knowledge of a complicated topic, making it all the more valuable of a skill for good writers to have.

Aside from hitting the books to brush up on your grammar, you can also turn to technology to provide you with some pretty helpful tools. Google can serve as a quick spell check, but it won’t catch the more complex errors. I often use Grammarly for proofreading because let’s face it, the English language is challenging enough to speak, let alone write. What I really like about this particular tool is that it teaches you why you’re making common grammar mistakes so you develop into a better writer – not a lazy writer.

Stop overthinking it

Finally, in order to become a better writer you quite simply need to chill out – relax! When you’re stressed and hyper-focused, your writing will reflect this. It will seem rigid and anxious. Writing is an art form after all, and it requires organic creativity that is only able to freely flow when you’re relaxed.

Before writing, take a deep breath. Close your eyes and find a relaxed space in your mind. Don’t look at a clock or agonize over how long you’ve been staring at a blank page. If you’re feeling blocked, take a break and walk away. You can’t force good writing and the grade school philosophy of “sit there until you finish it” will only turn your temporary writer’s block into a lifelong fear of the written word.

What have you found to be the most helpful tips and tools for becoming a better writer? Share your advice in the comments below!

 
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Posted by on March 17, 2014 in Business & Success

 

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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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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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