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How to Manage Work Flow While on Vacation

How to Manage Work Flow While on Vacation

I was fortunate to enjoy a very relaxing week earlier this month in the Outer Banks (North Carolina) with my extended family. There was more sun, surf and sand than what we could soak up in seven days! It’s not easy to coordinate many different schedules and all come together for a family vacation, so I wanted to make the most of the week and not at all feel tied to work.

In a traditional job, you get these wonderful things called “vacation days,” which you can use at your discretion and step away from all electronics without too many repercussions or guilt. As a business owner, and in my case a sole-proprietor, truly going off-line for a week can result in added stress and an increased workload leading up to vacation and immediately upon return.

Though entrepreneurs don’t really get vacation days, we also have no limit to how many we can take. Use this to your advantage! I’ve learned to let go of the idea that I need to completely step away from work to enjoy vacation. Rather, I practice these simple strategies for managing my workflow no matter where I am, so I can enjoy vacations and mini getaways all throughout the year – and you can too!

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Work ahead

When I know I’ll be dedicating less time to work during a vacation, I work ahead on tasks. For my most recent vacation, I had 60% of my September client work completed by the last week of August. Clients were happy to receive their social media plans, blogs, newsletters and other public relations strategies well ahead of schedule. In my experience, a happy client is a quiet client. I set myself up for a “free” week by working just one extra hour or so each day in the days leading up to vacation.

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Communicate early and often

The next key to success is mention and remind clients (again and again) that you will be on vacation. I think I started planting this seed a month or more out. When I would work ahead on a task or ask for quick feedback on something, I used this communication as an opportunity to remind them that I would out of the office. It conveniently worked out that my last day in the office before vacation was the first of the month, and also the day I send out invoices. With every email invoice, I included a note at the bottom reminding clients (one last time) that I would be away.

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Manage expectations

Along with communicating my vacation schedule, I was sure to manage expectations. I let clients know that I would be checking in on email about once per day and would address any urgent matters at that time. I personally feel it’s a little dramatic to say “I will have no access to the internet for the next seven days” if you actually will. Rather, I set an honest expectation that urgent matters would be addressed in 24 hours and non-urgent matters would be acknowledged and addressed when I got home. Giving my clients assurance that I wasn’t completely unreachable gave us both peace of mind knowing there would be no uncontrolled fires blazing while I tried to relax.

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Automate your daily tasks

During the seven days I spent chasing my kids around the beach and indulging in one-too-many treats, I published and promoted 3 blogs, sent out 4 e-blasts and posted to 17 different social media accounts combined 25 times. As I was working ahead, I created and scheduled these tasks to take place without my needing to click a button. WordPress, Mail Chimp and Hootsuite served as the employees I don’t have. Clients were impressed that their services went virtually uninterrupted for the week and I got to take the credit for “Working so hard, even while on vacation!” when it was simply work I put in ahead of time.

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Pick your poison

Finally and most importantly I stress that you have to pick your poison when it comes to managing work flor while on vacation. You can choose one of two strategies. You can choose to completely unplug, leave the laptop at home and turn off the wifi on your phone. Upon your return, however, you’ll have a tidal wave of emails that will flood your inbox all at once. Alternately, you can stay somewhat connected, check in on email about once per day and clean up your inbox a little at a time. Your first day back in the office won’t be nearly as overwhelming, but you’ll be giving up a few hours of vacation throughout the week.

While the second strategy requires staying somewhat connected to work, I’ve found that checking in now and again gives me the peace of mind to fully enjoy the rest of the day. The thought of not knowing what bombs could be hiding in my inbox when I get home leads to more stress and work-related thoughts than if I stayed in the know.

As much as you can script your email auto-response to say you’re going off the grid, as a business owner you know that’s not exactly realistic or responsible. Rather, consider setting aside a few minutes each morning to check in and reassure yourself that the world is just fine without you working today – then mix up a pina colada and enjoy the fruits of your labor!

What strategies do you use to manage your work flow when you take a vacation? Share your tips by commenting below!

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Posted by on September 25, 2017 in Business & Success, Life

 

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5 Signs a Client is Not a Good Fit for Your Business

5 Signs a Client is Not a Good Fit for Your BusinessWhen meeting with a prospective client, we can get so caught up in wanting to help them see the value or our services, that we overlook the signs that they wouldn’t be a good fit for our business. I’m guilty of having done this a time or two. I know because the client was a headache to work with and ultimately didn’t work out long-term. So how can you avoid wasting time and energy on the “wrong” clients? Start by watching out for these common warning signs.

  1. They can’t really tell you why they want to meet with you

This first warning sign should throw up an immediate red flag of caution. If you receive an email or phone call from someone who wants to meet with you to discuss your services, but they can’t really tell you specifically what service they need or the major challenges they’re facing right now, don’t be too quick to schedule an initial consultation.

It may seem like a good idea to sit down with them to gain more information, but from my experience, this isn’t the case. A good client can communicate why they want to meet with you, and what they need from you. A client who doesn’t know enough about their business’s problems to know why they need your services is likely going to be a waste of time.

  1. They use the initial consultation to get as much information out of you as possible

If you leave your initial meeting with a prospective client feeling like you just left an interrogation, there’s a good chance you may not be hearing from then again. I never charge for an initial consultation because I see this as an “information-collecting” phase and not an “information-giving” phase. A warning sign that a client is not a good fit is that they use this first meeting to try and get right to the meat of things. How do I do this? What are the best practices for this? How can I solve this problem? These are all great questions I’m happy to include in a strategic communications plan, but as for this first cup of coffee together, let me understand more about your business and current tactics.

  1. You pick up on the fact that they’re “shopping around”

If you meet with someone who references the multiple other companies (who offer your same services) that they’re talking to, this is a sign that they are making a game out of this. I understand – and encourage – clients to talk to one or two other companies for comparison, but when a client is taking months to “interview” a dozen consultants, this isn’t going to be a good fit. First, you’ll end up waiting on hold for a long time until the client can sort through all of their proposals and notes. Second, this is a warning sign for how they do business and it’s likely they will overanalyze and hold up progress on your efforts, too.

  1. They don’t seem serious about making a commitment

When I meet with a client, there’s a pretty clear process that results in a signed contract and the commencement of services. A big warning sign of a bad client is one who doesn’t have any idea of when they’d like to start their project. They’re just beginning to test the waters to determine if your services are the answer to their current challenges. What you want is a client who has already worked through this process and determined that they need the services you provide and have clear start date in mind.

  1. What they need is not really what you provide

A final warning sign to watch out for is when you get the gut feeling that your services are not the answer to their problems. Maybe they need business development, not PR. Or maybe they are already doing everything you would tell them to do and they just need to give it time. There are a lot of scenarios, but the end result is the same. If you know your services are not a good fit for their business, do a favor for both of you and be honest with them.

Do you have a warning sign to add to this list? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment!

 
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Posted by on March 20, 2017 in Business & Success, Life

 

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Protecting Your Pitch: How to sell the value of your expertise

The first Monday of each month, I dust off a favorite post from the Bennis Inc Blog archives and give you another chance to enjoy the wit and wisdom that’s been shared. Enjoy this month’s treasure – and if it inspires you – be sure to share it with family and friends!


Protecting Your Pitch How to sell the value of your expertiseIn the line of consulting work, the pitching process is arguably the most important. Love it or hate it, for a business to survive, you must be good at pitching, pricing and packaging your ideas into an attractive bundle. But even after you spend hours crafting a proposal and researching the most innovative ideas to prove your value to potential clients – this is only half the battle. They could absolutely love you and your ideas, but what prevents them from simply taking your proposal and implementing it themselves? It’s an unfortunate scenario that happens time and time again in the consulting world. Some consultants have accepted this as a risk of this line of business. Others feel as though the clients who don’t do this outweigh and offset the ones who do. While I find both of these to be true, I do believe there are tactics consultants can incorporate to protect their pitch.

Don’t charge for a proposal. This may sound counter-intuitive when trying to protect your pitch, but I don’t believe in charging a potential client a fee just for you to create a proposal. If they choose not to work with you, this results in no tangible benefit for which they paid. Moreover, I think it immediately sets the tone that you’re likely to charge them for every itemized task and are stringent with your fees. Sure, there is always the risk that the time you put in to creating a proposal may never be recouped, but (good) business is about risk taking after all. It is foremost important to position yourself as a valuable asset they want as part of the team rather than an insecure and rigid score keeper. I truly believe that a pleasant and professional pitching process goes a long way in ultimately sealing a client. If they feel you’re taking advantage of them by imposing a fee for a proposal, they’re more likely to take advantage of you by incorporating your ideas themselves. Furthermore, they may feel that by paying for these ideas, they’ve gained ownership over them. EXTRA TIP: Place a larger emphasis on pre-qualifying your clients before you reach the step of creating a proposal.Try an initial meet and greet to get to know them and their business before assuming a proposal is something either of you are interested in. This step alone will save you hours of pitching to clients who don’t align with what you offer.

Make your expertise part of the package. When crafting a quality proposal, don’t undersell the value of your expertise as part of the packaged deal. Goals – and the tactics to reach these goals should comprise a large portion of the proposal, but don’t forget that your expertise in performing these tasks is ultimately what you’re being paid for. If you have a personal contact or connection that can make your strategy more effective, which is common in Public Relations, include this in the proposal. All of this helps to protect your pitch in that it sells you as part of the package. As much as tactics can be taken and implemented by someone else, your expertise cannot.

Focus on “Value Added.” Along with your expertise as a unique selling point to your pitch, your proposal should also communicate the important concept of “value added” to your potential client. The value of you implementing the proposed tactics is that it allows your client and his or her employees to continue focusing their time on doing what they do best. If their expertise is not in communications or business consulting, and it likely is not, their time is not best spent completing these tasks. There is a level of efficiency and quality that goes along with someone doing something they’re trained to do. If you can communicate this concept clearly with your client, you will show them that personally taking on the additional workload outlined in the proposal is not in their or their business’s best interest.

Provide goals and tactics, not a blueprint. You provide a proposal to give a client an outline of the work you can complete for them – not to provide them with a how-to guide to implement themselves. In your pitch you should list your work in such a way that they clearly understand the expected benefits of a given task, but not enough to cut you out of the process. Think of a list of ingredients on any food label. You know everything that went in to making the product good, but you don’t know in what amount or order each ingredient was used to achieve the desired results. This is not with the intention to be sneaky or unfair. Truly most clients would appreciate not having to read a 20+ page proposal with a painstaking step-by-step strategy. They want the big picture, the tangible benefits and to know you’re capable of getting this done. Sticking to this format will also shave hours off of your pitch writing time.

If you take nothing else from this advice, remember this key thought – Pitching to a potential client is your opportunity to prove that the value of your expertise in implementing your ideas is what they’re really paying for.

Know someone who is a consultant? I highly encourage you share this with them. Given my own failures and triumphs with the pitch writing process, I would have been ever grateful to have learned these tips in some way other than through trial and error. Cheers!

 
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Posted by on February 1, 2016 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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Protecting Your Pitch: How to sell the value of your expertise

baseball, pitch, business plan, proposalIn the line of consulting work, the pitching process is arguably the most important. Love it or hate it, for a business to survive, you must be good at pitching, pricing and packaging your ideas into an attractive bundle. But even after you spend hours crafting a proposal and researching the most innovative ideas to prove your value to potential clients – this is only half the battle. They could absolutely love you and your ideas, but what prevents them from simply taking your proposal and implementing it themselves? It’s an unfortunate scenario that happens time and time again in the consulting world. Some consultants have accepted this as a risk of this line of business. Others feel as though the clients who don’t do this outweigh and offset the ones who do. While I find both of these to be true, I do believe there are tactics consultants can incorporate to protect their pitch.

Don’t charge for a proposal. This may sound counter-intuitive when trying to protect your pitch, but I don’t believe in charging a potential client a fee just for you to create a proposal. If they choose not to work with you, this results in no tangible benefit for which they paid. Moreover, I think it immediately sets the tone that you’re likely to charge them for every itemized task and are stringent with your fees. Sure, there is always the risk that the time you put in to creating a proposal may never be recouped, but (good) business is about risk taking after all. It is foremost important to position yourself as a valuable asset they want as part of the team rather than an insecure and rigid score keeper. I truly believe that a pleasant and professional pitching process goes a long way in ultimately sealing a client. If they feel you’re taking advantage of them by imposing a fee for a proposal, they’re more likely to take advantage of you by incorporating your ideas themselves. Furthermore, they may feel that by paying for these ideas, they’ve gained ownership over them. EXTRA TIP: Place a larger emphasis on pre-qualifying your clients before you reach the step of creating a proposal.Try an initial meet and greet to get to know them and their business before assuming a proposal is something either of you are interested in. This step alone will save you hours of pitching to clients who don’t align with what you offer.

Make your expertise part of the package. When crafting a quality proposal, don’t undersell the value of your expertise as part of the packaged deal. Goals – and the tactics to reach these goals should comprise a large portion of the proposal, but don’t forget that your expertise in performing these tasks is ultimately what you’re being paid for. If you have a personal contact or connection that can make your strategy more effective, which is common in Public Relations, include this in the proposal. All of this helps to protect your pitch in that it sells you as part of the package. As much as tactics can be taken and implemented by someone else, your expertise cannot.

Focus on “Value Added.” Along with your expertise as a unique selling point to your pitch, your proposal should also communicate the important concept of “value added” to your potential client. The value of you implementing the proposed tactics is that it allows your client and his or her employees to continue focusing their time on doing what they do best. If their expertise is not in communications or business consulting, and it likely is not, their time is not best spent completing these tasks. There is a level of efficiency and quality that goes along with someone doing something they’re trained to do. If you can communicate this concept clearly with your client, you will show them that personally taking on the additional workload outlined in the proposal is not in their or their business’s best interest.

Provide goals and tactics, not a blueprint. You provide a proposal to give a client an outline of the work you can complete for them – not to provide them with a how-to guide to implement themselves. In your pitch you should list your work in such a way that they clearly understand the expected benefits of a given task, but not enough to cut you out of the process. Think of a list of ingredients on any food label. You know everything that went in to making the product good, but you don’t know in what amount or order each ingredient was used to achieve the desired results. This is not with the intention to be sneaky or unfair. Truly most clients would appreciate not having to read a 20+ page proposal with a painstaking step-by-step strategy. They want the big picture, the tangible benefits and to know you’re capable of getting this done. Sticking to this format will also shave hours off of your pitch writing time.

If you take nothing else from this advice, remember this key thought – Pitching to a potential client is your opportunity to prove that the value of your expertise in implementing your ideas is what they’re really paying for.

Know someone who is a consultant? I highly encourage you share this with them. Given my own failures and triumphs with the pitch writing process, I would have been ever grateful to have learned these tips in some way other than through trial and error. Cheers!

 
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Posted by on September 24, 2012 in Business & Success

 

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