RSS

Tag Archives: Entrepreneur

How to Create the Job You Want

hand drawing cloud network

Now entering my seventh year of managing my own Public Relations firm in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, I’ve learned quite a few things about creating the job you want.

I was fortunate to have the realization early on in my career that my dream job didn’t exist. If I wanted it, I had to create it. So I did. That sounds simple enough, but I will be the first to tell you it was anything but simple or easy. That’s not a reason to continue with a job you dislike, if anything it should be motivation to buckle up for the wild ride of entrepreneurship, if you feel this is your calling.

Maybe you’re ready to take the leap, or maybe you’ve only just begun to wonder what being an entrepreneur could look like for you. No matter where you are on the journey, let me offer you some advice on how to begin creating the job you want.

Confirm it doesn’t already exist

Do your research! Does the job you want already exist? It’s possible your current company or another company offer a role that’s close to exactly what you want, but you just need to work to get there. That’s great! Establish a plan for how you you’re going to move toward this role. There’s no need to take on the added stress and complication of trying to recreate your dream job if it already exists.

In contrast, your research might confirm that your dream job is something so unique you must forge ahead as an entrepreneur to create it. Knowing that no other job currently out there matches the job you want should give you inspiration and drive to move forward with the career of self-employment, because not doing so would mean compromising your dreams.

Get real about what you want

Okay, so you have a clear understanding of whether the job you want already exists or whether you need to create it. Now it’s time to be honest with yourself about what makes this job so appealing to you. Is it the expected pay, flexible work schedule, power, purpose, fulfillment or something else? If in this process you discover the job you want is really centered on a perceived salary or title, this should be a red flag that maybe your priorities are a bit skewed.

Entering entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart, or the mildly committed. To be a successful entrepreneur, you must want it with every fiber of your being. You will never stick with it long term, through the highs and lows, if you’re only in it for the pay or power – those don’t come for many years, if at all. Get real about what you want out of your dream job and check your priorities again and again.

Then, get real about why you want it

Similar to the point above, once you know what it is you want out of the job you’re going to create, take it one step further. Ask yourself “Why do I want it?” If you can’t confidently answer this question, that’s another red flag that maybe you’re not cut out to forge your own career path outside of the corporate box.

While there are no “correct” answers to this question, the following answers are often good indicators that you’re entering entrepreneurship for the right reasons: I want to make a difference; I want to control my own destiny; I want to apply my passion toward a purpose; I want to maintain a better work-life balance. Be crystal clear about what you want out of your dream job and why you want it.

Talk with someone who has already done it

Next, I urge you to talk to someone who has created the job they wanted and have progressed along this career path for five years or more. They are going to be a wealth of knowledge to you as you consider creating the job you want. They can also help assess your business model, motives and drive to help determine if this is the right choice for you at this time in your life. If you find someone who really inspires you, ask them to mentor you on your entrepreneurial journey!

Develop your model

To create the job you want, you need a clear business model for how you’re going to make a profit. Are you selling a product or a service? Who are your target customers? How will you promote your business? What is your expected overhead? How can you minimize this, especially in the first few years? Work to clearly outline your business model, because you’re going to need it for the next critical step.

Test your model

Yes, you have to first test your business model to prove it works. A lot of business opportunities seem great in theory, but what if you’re answering a problem that doesn’t exist? Or what if you’re pricing model sucks? Fully commit to creating the job you want by fist doing a soft launch of your business to test the market. Is your marketing strategy attracting new customers? Can your friends or family offer constructive feedback? First testing your business model, and further refining it before your full rollout will help you present a more professional and polished first impression of your business.

Commit fully

This is the most important step in creating the job you want, and the biggest determination of whether you will fail or succeed. Will you commit fully to your dream? I said it above and I’ll say it again, entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart. Daily you will experience, setbacks, uncertainties, crises, losses and criticism. If you are anything but fully committed, this will surely have you headed for the hills and back to the corporate world before you complete your first quarter.

Keep in mind that the first five years of running your own business is still its infancy. That seems like a long time, but if you’re in this for the long-haul it will be only a blip of the full history of your career. Don’t allow yourself to give up in those five years; push through. Think of it as a hike up a steep hill. Those first few miles really test your endurance. At times you will think it’s better to turn around before you’ve reached the top. But I promise you, if you can make it five years creating the job you want, you will see some magnificent views along the way and be rewarded with renewed strength and commitment to keep forging ahead, higher and higher.

What’s your dream job? How do you plan to pursue it? Share your personal career goals by leaving a comment.

Advertisements
 
2 Comments

Posted by on October 9, 2017 in Business & Success, Life

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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!

IMG_6624

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.

IMG_6744

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.

IMG_6969

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.

IMG_7035

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.

IMG_6706

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!

 
Leave a comment

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

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

7 Things I Will Never Have as a Business Owner

7 Things I Will Never Have as a Business Owner

While there are many advantages to being your own boss, there are also certain things you may never experience again (for the most part). Depending upon how you look at it, this could be a win-win scenario. Either way, now six years into running my own business, I’ve realized that there are a few things I will likely never have as a business owner.

A Day Completely Free From Work

The upside to running my own business, I can work from anywhere. The downside, I can work from anywhere. For this reason, my work followers me anywhere I have internet access. And even without internet access, it’s still on my mind. I’m not likely to ever go completely “offline” for more than a day, but that’s because I prefer to stay on top of my work and grow my business. When you’re passionate about what you do, you’re not always craving that next vacation!

Limited Vacation Days

Speaking of vacation, I can time off whenever I feel like it and as often as I want to. It still holds true that my work will be something I carry with me, but I doubt anyone feels too sorry when I’m checking emails from the Bahamas. Being a business owner is about balance. I can take unlimited vacation days, but I’m still responsible for delivering what I promised to my clients. Time management is key.

A Tax Return

I gave up hope a long time ago that I would ever see a tax return. As a business owner, I pay not only at tax time, but I pay quarterly throughout the year leading up to it. It’s important to point out that my clients don’t withhold taxes in their payments, so it’s strictly on me to make sure I am paying the fair and appropriate amount of taxes based on my income. Similar to having unlimited vacation days, I don’t expect anyone to feel bad for my tax situation. After all, if I’m paying more it means I’m earning more. But I have to laugh at the commercials that suggest I use my tax return for this or that. It’s been nearly a decade since the IRS wrote me a check.

Normal Work Hours

For better – and worse – I don’t have set “normal” work hours. It works out for the most part that I’m in front of my computer between 9 and 4, but there will be times I’m taking a 8pm conference call or I’m online at 6am to clean up my inbox. On the upside, I can also go offline for a couple hours in the morning to get in a work out, or in the afternoon to catch a nap. I’m so far removed from the concept of a 9-5 job that I doubt I would last long in that work environment again.

A Fixed Income

As a business owner, my income is anything but fixed. I have a meager paycheck I receive each month from my business for tax purposes, but I also receive distributions throughout the year however I see fit. Every year and every month, my income is up to me. I have to constantly and consistently satisfy my current clients and keep my pipeline full of new clients. In a crazy scenario, every client could decide to discontinue their services and I would be left at square one. On the flip side (and the more common scenario), I take on additional clients each month and grow my income.

It’s not common that many people can increase their monthly “salary” by a couple thousand dollars in a month by providing the same services they’re already providing to others. For this reason and many others, I love owning a business, and owning my income.

Someone Else Controlling My Schedule

Because no single client owns 100% of my time, they do not have control of my schedule. I remember my life prior to entrepreneurship where I would have someone slap a meeting or conference call on my schedule and so long as it was during normal work hours I had no leverage to push back. I had to stop whatever I was doing to be there. Now, when a client requests a meeting, they provide me with several options and I have the ability to select what works best for me. If I can’t make a meeting, my clients don’t know if it’s because of a work conflict or a hair appointment (or more commonly it doesn’t work with my toddler’s nap schedule). I control my own schedule and strategically plan my days to be efficient and convenient.

A Boring Day

As a business owner, there is no such thing as a boring day. Often the excitement comes from exceeding a client’s expectation or receiving a great lead for new business. Other times, “excitement” is the rush of an emergency or crisis that you have to resolve. Even if I carve a free afternoon to go offline from work, I’m not strapped to my office. I can run errands, do something relaxing or spend time with my kids. Every day and every email is different. The hours fly by and I wouldn’t ever want to return to the days of watching the clock!

Are you a business owner? Can you relate to some of the things I’ve mentioned or do you have an idea of your own to add? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment!

 
1 Comment

Posted by on September 11, 2017 in Business & Success, Entrepreneurship, Life

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Contractors and Freelancers: Tips for Crafting a Fair and Appealing Proposal

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!


Tips for Crafting a Fair and Appealing Proposal

When you take the entrepreneurial leap and venture out on your own as a contractor or freelancer, one of the biggest challenges is creating a competitive and consistent pricing model you can stick to. It’s a real test of self-confidence to put a rate on your hours and truly believe you are worth this much. But it’s imperative to running a successful and sustainable business!

I have previously written on topics related to pricing services (like how to price for efficiency or tips for being smart and fair). However, even if “the price is right,” a subpar proposal can jeopardize your chances of getting a signed contract. How you package your proposal gives businesses a sense of your professionalism. It’s also an important opportunity to properly scope your work and protect your pricing.

As you might anticipate, I have passionate advice to share on this topic. This has come from my own trial and (sometimes critical) error, so take note! Here are six components that help to make up a fair and appealing proposal.

Account for any task that will require your time

When you create your proposal, you want to be as specific and all-inclusive as you can be with the services you will perform. My rule of thumb is to include any task that will require a reasonable amount of your time.

So often as contractors, we forget about the time and effort we put into things like doing research, attending meetings, answering emails and jumping on phone calls for clients. This doesn’t mean you necessarily need to charge more for these “expected” tasks, but it’s worth showcasing everything that goes into your relationship with your client so they understand the full value of the work you perform.

Quantify your deliverables

Simply saying “…will post to social media accounts” doesn’t put into perspective the tangible work that will be performed. Your client may worry about what they will actually get for the money. Be overly clear – there’s no reason to be vague with your efforts! A better version is, “…will post 6 times per week to Facebook, 3 times per day to Twitter and 4 times per week to Linkedin.”

I also prefer to use language like “up to 3 rounds of edits” because this protects you from getting stuck with a difficult client who requests that you redo your work from scratch 8+ time while still providing you with the flexibility to not have to deliver 3 rounds of edits, if they are not needed.

If you don’t define it, you can’t defend it. Should a project exceed its scope, you want to reserve the right to say that it is outside the terms of the proposal and is subject to an additional cost.

Organize services by goals

Showing your client you are an organized and detail-oriented professional begins with your proposal. Help them quickly grasp the value of what they will receive by organizing your services by the goal they aim to achieve. This will help to paint the bigger picture of how each service is strategically designed to work together and will also make your deliverables clear and direct. For clients who came to you without really knowing their goals, this added feature of your proposal will help them to feel secure under your direction (i.e. you’ll look like you have your stuff together).

Include an hourly rate for miscellaneous services

It’s natural for a project to exceed its scope once you’re signed into a contract and dig into the tasks. For example, your client may want five more web pages designed or would now like to add a weekly blog. These items will require more of your time and you need to get paid for this.

So long as you properly quantified your deliverables (see previous section we just discussed), you should have no problem responding to your client with “That sounds like a great idea! Let me get you a quote for that additional work.”

In an effort to appear both professional and transparent, I often include a line item in my proposals that note that miscellaneous writing and communication services can be completed at the rate of $X per hour. This gives clients a heads up for your normal hourly rate and reminds them that work outside the scope of this proposal is subject to additional cost.

Offer a discount for long-term commitments

For contracts that intend to be on a reoccurring basis (i.e. they have the same repeated deliverables each month with no obvious end date), I structure the pricing of my proposal to encourage clients to sign into a long-term commitment in exchange for a price break. Why? Contractors and freelancers love residual paychecks and clients love to feel like they’re getting a deal!

I suggest having three different price points. The most expensive is month-to-month. The added value here is the client’s complete flexibility to get out of a contract with minimal commitment. The next tier is per quarter. Finally, there is the annual contract pricing which is the best deal. I allow clients to still pay the breakdown each month (for cash flow sake), but they are committed to the length of the contract.

Bonus tip: I also include wording in the contract to allow for the client to adjust or increase services at any time, so long as the minimum contract price remains the same. This gives the client flexibility to add and remove services should their goals change over the course of a long-term contract, or should they wish to increase services (always a welcome change).

Set an expiration date

Finally, I have learned to include an “expiration date” on my proposals (usually 30 days from the date issued) to protect my pricing. I’ve experienced some clients go completely radio silent after receiving a proposal and then come back 4+ months later ready to engage. I can’t anticipate what other clients I may take on in the future and how my pricing may need to change to accommodate my bandwidth. The proposal expiration date allows me the right to issue a new proposal after 30 days has passed and change my pricing as I see fit. Every business must be mindful of supply and demand and how this impacts pricing; for contractors and freelancers, this is your hourly rate.

Additionally, an expiration date should give clients a nudge of encouragement to make a decision within 30 days and lock in your pricing and services while they are favorable and available. I’ve preached about how “a no is as good as a yes.” You want to receive a response to your proposal, even if it’s a no, so you can move forward….or move on.

What other questions do you have for crafting a fair and appealing proposal? Ask and I’ll answer!

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Book Smart vs. Street Smart: What I’ve Learned about PR Outside the Classroom

Qualified specialist

While I was earning my degrees in public relations and communication from Penn State University, I was already putting these skills into practice for some of my first clients. It’s amazing to look back and realize that real businesses put their trust in a young student who had really just “book smart” PR skills, and little to no real-life application. What’s even more amazing, is some of these very first clients continue to work with me to this day.

Now, I have matched and well exceed the length of that college education with “street smart” PR experience. Over the last six years, I continue to place a high value on forever educating myself on the latest trends and techniques in the public relations field. This just happens to come in a different form than a brick-and-mortar classroom. From networking groups and industry associations, to simply staying up to date on the news, it takes dedication and a hunger to learn, not just degrees upon degrees, to fine tune your PR skills.

Here are the key public relations skills I’ve gained since leaving the classroom and entering the real world, and I would consider all of these to be critical to the success of my PR consulting business!

Prospecting and Qualifying Clients

Early in my business, I would take on pretty much any client who came my way. I kind of had to. I have no idea how to prospect or qualify these contacts to ensure they would be a good fit for my business. This wasn’t something I was taught in my PR classes. I learned how to develop goals and tactics for clients, once I had them, but I wasn’t taught the important early steps like first matching a client’s needs with my services.

I’ve become very “street smart” with qualifying leads. I don’t immediately commit to a meeting or even a phone call until I’ve done a bit of homework and asked some essential questions. This has saved me a lot of billable work hours, and has afforded me a few more afternoon naps.

Growing Long-Term Relationships

Another valuable skill not found in textbooks is the ability to turn one-time projects into quarterly or annual retainers. This has become my bread and butter. Just about every single client that has started off with a small or finite project (website content, monthly blogs, media training session) has come back to then sign on with an ongoing contract worth sometimes 10x more per month than that first contract. The key to setting yourself up for residual business with a client is handling that initial project, no matter how small, with the same passion and dedication you would handle your biggest annual retainer. Often a client is testing you to see if you’re a good fit for a long-term relationship. Don’t fail this test!

Effectively Managing Payments

In the first half of 2017 alone, I’ve billed 25+ clients, many on a monthly or quarterly basis. That’s a lot of invoices to manage! My (oddly reluctant) switch to using QuickBooks couldn’t have come at a better time. Rather than relying on a spreadsheet, or worse, a post-it note on my computer, I diligently log everything into QuickBooks. Invoicing is still a process I must make time to do, but it’s a much more streamlined one. I can see what clients owe me money at any time and how many days has passed since issuing the invoice. My husband jokes I could be a bounty hunter in my next life. And to my tax attorney, you’re welcome in advance!

Monetizing “Scope Creep”

This skill ties back to “growing long-term relationships.” It’s a good thing my clients often come to me for more work! However, it can go south when these clients don’t realize the additional work requires additional time and needs to be billed as such. Fresh out of college, I lacked the business savvy to monetize the “scope creep” of a project. I would bill it as “good will” and do the work without earning an extra cent. I still believe in some good will favors, but I only have a certain amount of good will to pour into any given client.

Rather, I am quick to show my interest in taking on this additional work for a client and let them know upfront that I would be happy to give them a proposal for that additional work. This softly reminds them that the work they’re asking to have completed is outside their current contact. I can do it, but for a fee. I have not once had a bad reaction. Clients often respond “Oh of course, I want to pay you for your additional work.” I’m so glad I’m not still losing money on all that good will I was throwing around!

Knowing When to Let Go

Knowing when to cut ties with a client that is no longer a good fit for your business was never covered in any of my PR textbooks, that’s for sure! This is a skill I am still learning along that way, and unfortunately it still remains a pretty steep learning curve. Because of my ability to prospect and qualify clients, I have reduced the need to let a client go, but it has and still will happen from time to time.

What I’ve learned is, make it about you, not them. Don’t focus on their shortcomings, as tempting as it may be, but rather focus on why your business isn’t in a position to best serve them. Be upfront, keep it short and do it early! Those are my pearls of wisdom.

Having Confidence in a Unique Vision

Lastly, the ability to believe in yourself and not compare your journey against someone else’s is something I 100% had to learn outside of the classroom. This applies to both business and life. I am passionate about being a PR consultant. I don’t want a big firm with lots of employees and overhead. I want the complete freedom and flexibility to take on all of my own clients, team up with power partners when I need it, or run a completely lean operation when I don’t. I want to take unlimited vacation days and hit the gym at 2 in the afternoon, if I want!

I like that no client or colleague owns my time completely. I have a unique business model to which many cannot relate. It’s taken time for me to confidently say “I’m a professional public relations consultant” without feeling the need to hide behind a fictitious and irrelevant title like “CEO” or “Principal” to make it sound like a run a big firm. After all, I advocate for my clients to be transparent and genuine; it’s important I am too.

In your career, how would you compare your book smarts to your street smarts? Which do you value more? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment!

 
 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Low Cost and No Cost Business Tools Every Entrepreneur Should Use

When I first began my Public Relations Consulting Business, now nearly six years ago, I had to find every possible low cost or no cost tool to grow my business with minimal overhead. Still to this day, I find myself continuing to use many of these same tools not just because they are cost-effective, but because they work. Take a look at the top 10 tools I recommend for every entrepreneur.

keyboard.

Email Management

gmail

Gmail – I’ve been with Gmail from the inception of my business. Though my email is @bennisinc.com, I can login just as I would for an @gmail.com account. It’s familiar, it’s user-friendly and it’s free – or about $2 per month, depending upon your plan. Through some of my clients, I’ve had the experience of using Outlook and have found no added benefit that Gmail doesn’t match and then blow out of the water. Need I say more about Gmail’s awesomeness?

Email Marketing

mail chimp

Mail Chimp – Mail Chimp has won my heart for several reasons. First, I appreciate that it keeps things simple and user friendly. If I want to send out a quick press release for a client, I can easily brand a template and have this sent within minutes. I have also seen unique and intricate templates created by my fellow designers that make a Mail Chimp email look just like some of those more “expensive guys’.”

Speaking of, I have experience using Constant Contact, Emma, MadMimi and more. I find these platforms to be far more fussy and expensive. If your contact list is less than 2,000 people and you send less than 12,000 emails per month, Mail Chimp is completely free!

Scheduling

doodle

Doodle – If you can relate to the scenario of countless “reply-all” emails with dates and times being thrown about trying to schedule a group conference call, then you need to get acquainted with Doodle. I have to schedule anywhere from 4 to 10 conference calls per month, often with ten or more people each. Doodle has been a huge time saver. I simply select a variety of dates and times that (foremost) suit my schedule, then all participants select the dates and times that also work for them. Doodle shows you what option works for the most people, so making a decision is easy!

Business Phone

google voice

Google VoiceI have never paid a dime for a dedicated business phone number and voicemail – it’s Google Voice makes this possible. My cell phone is an 814 area code, but I now operate in the 717 area code. In an effort to accurately portray my business as local, I selected a 717 business phone number via Google Voice and linked it directly to my cell phone. This means when someone calls my business line, I see “Google Voice” appear on my phone and know to answer it as a business call. My favorite feature is that I can record an alternate voice mail that people hear when they call this line, so they aren’t greeted with my personal voice mail. You can even record a specific voice mail for one specific person, if you really want to give a personal touch!

Conference Calls

free conference call

FreeConferenceCall.com – The name sounds a little shady, but this service has never done me wrong. You simply create a free account and they assign you a unique conference number to use again and again and again. If you want to pay a little more, you can add on any number of features, but for me, all I wanted was a dedicated, reliable conference line for free.

Invoicing

quickbooks

Intuit QuickBooks’ Invoicing Software – I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that I managed my growing PR consulting business completely with invoices I created in Word for the first five years. Starting in 2017, I was finally introduced to Intuit QuickBooks thanks to a client. From my first use, I was hooked.

This year alone, I am currently managing 22 active client accounts, and growing. Without QuickBooks, invoicing would be a nightmare. I can see who owes what, what’s overdue and easily compile a report to see any imaginable metric of my business finances. I’m trying not to kick myself too hard for not implementing QuickBooks sooner, but really it’s a shame how unnecessarily painful I made compiling tax information for my business. Lesson learned.

Productivity

boomerang

Boomerang (for Gmail) – Boomerang is my spirit animal. It allows you to draft and schedule email messages to go out at a specific date and time in the future. This allows me to schedule meeting reminders, follow-up emails or send out a proposal several days from now when it would hit my client at a better time. I can take care of the task while it’s on my mind and not have it sit in my draft box. Boomerang is like my personal assistant that takes care of the rest! This service is free for up to 10 messages per month, which suits me just fine. For a little more money you can unlock their entire suite of features. If you feel like you’re always forgetting to send out or follow-up on emails, definitely check this one out!

Social Media Management

hoot suite

Hootsuite – I’ve explored several different types of social media management platforms and my loyalty remains with Hootsuite. I pay just about $10 per month and I’m able to accommodate the management of all of my clients’ social media accounts. The feature that sold me is the ability to schedule social media posts in advance. I still get real-time notifications if anyone likes, comments or shares a post so I can immediately react, but the day-to-day logging into each account and posting is eliminated. This gives me back at least an hour of my day, every day!

File Storage and Organization

dropbox

DropBox – I might have one or two physical file folders with paperwork, everything else is in my DropBox – and that’s 6 years’ worth of storage! DropBox makes it easy for me to share entire folders with a client, graphic designer or anyone else who may need access to these items. I also gain peace of mind knowing I can access these same files from my phone or any other computer via DropBox.com. So should anything tragic happen to my laptop, I still have all of my client files at my fingertips.

Collaboration

g suite

G Suite – We started by talking about Google as a no cost or low cost resource to entrepreneurs, so let’s end by talking about it some more. G Suite, specifically Google Docs and Google Sheets, is a great tool for collaboration. Multiple people can edit a document in real-time, eliminating the back and forth with multiple versions of the same document and not knowing which is the most up to date. In short, G Suite is a simple and free collaboration tool that most everyone is comfortable using – a huge selling point especially when working with clients who aren’t tech-savvy.

What are some of your favorite low cost or no cost business tools? Share the technologies that have helped you to grow!

 
2 Comments

Posted by on June 12, 2017 in Business & Success

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

How I Plan to Gain More Free Time in the Summer Months

summer 2017

Given the Memorial Day holiday, I think just about everyone is thinking about the fun summer activities that lie ahead. I know I am! This is why I got to thinking about my plan for the summer to ensure I enjoy my most favorite months of the year. It’s too easy to stay on the same work routine and not take advantage of the warm weather and time with family. Being a creature of habit, I thought the best thing to do was to set some “boundaries” for my summer and come up with a new routine that will help me maximize my free time and benefit from my flexible work schedule throughout the coming months. Take a look!

End each weekend with a preview of the week ahead

In order to get more out of my work hours and maximize my free time, I’ve found it to be really helpful to end the weekend with a review of the upcoming week’s tasks and obligations. This gives me a good mental grasp on how much dedicated work time I’ll have, verses time that will be spent at meetings or events. I also compare this schedule with my husband’s to be sure we’re fully covered on family duties. There’s nothing quite as stressful as realizing you both need to be out of the house early without someone to run the kids to daycare!

Get up at the same time every day

This will be a challenging one, but one that will surely help to maximize my free time so I can enjoy the summer months. Every day of the week, including Saturday and Sunday, I plan to get up at 6am. Some days I may have a little helper join me who wakes up early, and some days I may get a cup of coffee and a head start on my inbox. No matter how I spent this extra hour of the morning, it will go to good use and put me in the best position for a less stressful day. On the weekends, this will be the only hour I dedicate to checking in on work – or I’ll use it to get in some exercise!

Make a plan – for both work and play

Just as it’s important to plan to get work done, it’s also important to block out time in your schedule to enjoy non-work related things. I’ll have an agenda for each day that outlines how I want to spend my time. This will likely involve a mix of some work tasks along with a nap in the sun on the back deck. On days I have one or more kid home with me, I will prioritize only what has to get done that day to keep me on top of my work tasks, the rest will be dedicated to family time!

Stay on a routine for monthly tasks

I’ve gotten on a good routine of looking at all projects I have to deliver on a monthly basis and dividing them into one of two categories: tasks to be delivered for the current month and tasks to be delivered for the coming month. The first category of tasks gets prioritized and completed between days 1 and 15 of the current month. The second category of tasks are put on the to-do list starting day 15 and completed no later than the end of the month. If you’re overwhelmed by your task list, you may need to start categorizing and prioritizing tasks so you have a better handle on what needs done now and what can wait.

Limit networking and social requests

For some, summer is the prime time to set networking meetings and attend social events to grow your business. But for me, I’d much rather spend my free time soaking up the sun with my kids. Because of this, I frequently decline such requests. I’ll tell the contact that we can set date for the fall, and if they’re really serious about meeting, they’ll comply. For those “serial networkers” that were likely going to be a waste of time anyway, they will forget to follow-up and fade away.

Zero out my inbox each evening

This takes a little commitment, but once it’s routine it will greatly streamline workflow. I practice this now, and plan to into the summer. Every evening, once the kids are in bed, I take up to 30 minutes to “zero out” my inbox. What this means is that I check in on any emails that may have come in since I closed up shop sometime in the afternoon, and I address them. Many emails can be read and deleted, others will need a response. If the response is quick, I give it. If it will take some time, I patch it into my work flow for tomorrow. If I anticipate needing more than one day to reply to a client, I first reply with an acknowledgement of the email and then let them know when to anticipate my full response. I have found this last tip to be the key to keeping clients happy by keeping them in the loop. It also prevents additional follow-up emails or phone calls asking when something will be completed.

With these tips, I hope to enjoy a slower paced summer without needing to cut back on any client work. With my extra free time, I plan to enjoy the warm weather, spend time with family and take a few long weekend trips to make some new memories. If this new routine produces favorable results, I just may never come back from my “summer” lifestyle!

How do you plan to manage your workload to enjoy this summer? Share your ideas by leaving a comment!

 
 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

 
%d bloggers like this: