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How To Make Your Startup Business More Efficient Now (Guest Blog by Kiley Martin)

The following post comes to us from Kiley Martin, a Philadelphia-based freelance writer, editor and blogger.


TimeIncreasing the efficiency of operations should be a primary goal of all business owners . However, enhancing business productivity often falls by the wayside when workload increases. People push things off and get stuck in the same old routines.

You might be worried about the need to spend money in order to make your business more streamlined. Especially in the startup world, it’s unavoidable. You’re introducing things for the first time and it will cost time and even perhaps a new position. You’re building something that wasn’t there before.

But spending money doesn’t mean inefficiency. In fact it often means the opposite, especially if you’re investing in the future of the business. If you spend $5,000 to save $5 every time you do a repetitive process, you’ll make your money back in no time.

With that in mind, here are some ways you can make your startup business more efficient.

Invest strategically to reduce costs

When a startup is founded, business owners choose not to invest in a lot of technology or equipment because it may initially increase costs. For instance, you may choose to use a manual fax machine instead of buying an electronic one with Bluetooth access.

However, if sending and receiving faxes are a critical part of your daily operations, using an electronic fax machine would save you time, paper costs, and the hassle of manning the machine when waiting on an important document. So, even though you may have to spend some money and invest in a good machine initially, it will make things easier later on by increasing your time and cost efficiency.

Cost benefit analyses like this are very useful for when you’re setting up your business as they can help you in the long run. Focus on strategic investments that impact your most important operations.

Automate your tasks. Focus on your specialties

As an entrepreneur, you will quickly become aware that just because you own a business, this doesn’t mean you are equally good at managing all aspects of it. You could be well versed in the nuances of how to sell an app, but you might not be familiar with the specifics of app development or coding. This paves the way for task delegation.

Foremost, you need to learn to identify which tasks you can do best and which need to be delegated to other employees so they can do it best.

This concept also applies to menial tasks. Even though you are a business owner looking to cut down costs, taking a full burden of responsibilities will not help your situation. If you spend three hours manually sending invoices to clients, you are spending way less time overlooking the state of affairs for your business.

It would be prudent to get software that takes care of your invoicing so you can pay attention to other tasks that demand your attention.

In the same way, menial jobs like sending receipts or overseeing the delivery of documents could take up mental space, time and energy. Hiring an employee to take care of these tasks or using a computer program can not only make things easier for you, but also streamline your business processes in the long run.

It will also free up most of your work hours so you can focus on other tasks that require your attention.

Furthermore, if you have a website, which you should, don’t spend too much time running it if you’re a website amateur. Allow a hosting service to take the reigns. You’re running a business, not a website or an AP department. You need to invest in these processes so they don’t eat away all your time.

Give feedback and encourage employees

Your responsibility does not end at hiring personnel. The reason why most startups fail is because they are unsuccessful at retaining talent. The employees may feel useless in terms of contribution to the overall venture if they are not encouraged regularly.

Sometimes business owners will stick to brief comments and words of appreciation that mean nothing to the employee. Without proper feedback, they can stagnate their progress.

Therefore, it is important that as a business owner, you develop a keen eye for the work of your subordinates, providing ample constructive feedback where necessary. This will develop your rapport with the staff and provide work fulfillment so they can keep working with you.

Plan your schedule and focus on one thing at a time

Most startup owners work long hours and sacrifice sleep for work. Yet, they always have tasks on their to-do list that still need to be considered. For them, the work never ends.

This does not mean that other startup owners have it considerably easier than you do. It just means that other business owners have learned to manage their time and their tasks.

But how do you end up going about that ridiculous pile of work on your desk? Well, the first thing is to list everything you need to do. Then, list the time you have in a day that you will dedicate to the tasks, and plan accordingly. Do not attempt to take on more work than you know you can do.

The same goes for your employees. Encourage them to direct their focus on single tasks, rather than multitasking. Intense concentration will produce better results and take less of a mental toll, resulting in quality and efficiency.

Do you have a tip for helping a business to run more efficiently? Share your advice by leaving a comment!

Kiley MartinKiley Martin is a freelance writer, editor and blogger from Philadelphia, PA. She has worked with several popular blogs and magazines. She recently graduated from Drexel University. She also enjoys mentoring and connecting with others on new technologies in web development and programming. Feel free to contact her at KileyAMartin@gmail.com

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Posted by on August 28, 2017 in Business & Success, Guest Blogger

 

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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!

 

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How Some of the Worst Jobs Have Made My Career Better

how-some-of-the-worst-jobs-have-made-my-career-better

For anyone who has worked summer jobs, internships, entry level jobs and hey, even high-profile, but highly demanding roles within a business, you know this to be true. There are drawbacks to every job you’ve ever worked.

The hope for a happy career is to ultimately find a job where the positives outweigh the negatives and maybe you even learn to embrace the negatives a little. But until you’ve made it to this point, you’re likely compiling a bunch of horror stories of jobs that make you consider moving to a remote island and living off the land.

To offer you some inspiration and encouragement that you’re not alone, here’s a breakdown of some of my worst employment experiences and what I learned from each of them along the way.

The Job: Under-the-table lawn work

The Lesson: It’s no one’s responsibility but your own to make the job enjoyable (or at least bearable). I learned this at the age of 16 when I spent hours in the hot sun, by myself, pulling weeds and moving mulch for a neighbor. At first it sounded great. I could set my own hours, work as much or as little as I wanted in a week and get paid in cash. However, I hated every hour I spent in that gorgeous lawn as the minutes barely crept by. I realized if I was going to survive the summer – and earn my spending money – I needed to find a way to make it more enjoyable.

I started to bring a radio with me, set goals and mini rewards (snack time, anyone?) to breakdown the work day and work efficiently so I could knock projects off in a fraction of the time they estimated it would take. The lesson I learned was if you’re bored or miserable with your job, first think about what you can do to make it more enjoyable. Little changes can make a world of difference!

The Job: The dining commons on a college campus

The Lesson: Everyone needs to share in the sh*t work. At the dining commons, I mostly had the same shifts in the area I enjoyed working the most. But one Sunday each month, I (and every other employee) was assigned to work in the wash room where I would clean the gunk off plates and trays next to a steamy industrial washer. Not glamorous at all. I hated when this shift came up on my schedule and good luck ever finding someone to switch! The lesson I learned here was that in order for the sh*t work to get done, everyone had to take a turn. In the grand scheme of my work schedule, this was such a small fraction of my time, and I got to spend the rest of my work hours doing something I actually felt was fun. Because we all took our turn, it lessened the load for everyone.

The Job: A desk job in state government

The Lesson: Give every job an earnest effort, but if it’s not taking you the direction you want to go, have courage to change courses. This pretty much sums up my short, but life-changing experience in state government. Coming off a statewide political campaign and being dumped into a snail’s pace desk job, felt like falling off a speeding train. At first the set hours, more than manageable workload and low expectations seemed great. But it didn’t take long before I realized I couldn’t do this for another month, let alone another 9 years to get vested.

I realized that this job would waste the precious early years of my life, the ones where you have unjaded ideas, unlimited energy and a mindset to take on the world. I couldn’t risk suppressing the talents I know I had to be an entrepreneur – so I made the leap…and never looked back. God, I’m grateful for that job that pushed me over the edge!

The Job: A virtual writing position

The Lesson: Don’t let anyone undervalue your talent or monopolize your time. This was a gig I actually took on as I was simultaneously running Bennis Public Relations (and working from home with my 6 month old son). I thought it could be like any of my other consulting clients where I had set monthly deliverables, worked virtually and could provide what they needed. Simply put, I was very, very wrong. This client monopolized all of my time and because I was technically on payroll (and not a contractor), it’s not like I was getting paid more for the additional work they threw on me.

It felt eerily similar to my political campaign days and my gut told me it was all wrong. Not more than 6 weeks in, I made the hard decision to give my notice and leave the position. Up until this point I never “fired” any client or left a gig, but in retrospect I am so grateful I had the support of my family and the confidence to get out when I did! As fate would have it, not more than one month later, two awesome clients cold-called me and we’re still working together today!

What terrible job experiences have you had that have actually had a positive impact on your career? Share your stories by commenting below!

 
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Posted by on November 28, 2016 in Business & Success

 

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How to Job Hunt While Working Your Current Job

how-to-job-hunt-while-working-your-current-jobJust because you’re currently employed doesn’t mean you’re done looking for your next opportunity or career move. In fact, it’s smart to begin planning your next steps before you quit your current job to avoid a lapse in pay or a gap in your resume. The downside is it can be challenging to find enough hours in the day to fulfill the responsibilities of your current job while putting forth your best effort to find a new one.

From our first-hand experience with this very scenario, we have four helpful tips to make your “working” job search just a little bit easier. Take a look!

Block schedule time for job hunting

Just like you schedule your current work tasks and appointments, you need to also schedule the daily tasks and milestones you need to accomplish to keep your job hunting on track. Treat it like any other commitment on your calendar and make a dedicated space for it. On what day and what time will you check for job listings? When will you update your resume and send to potential employers? When will you schedule interviews? Allow margin in your daily work schedule to accommodate these extra tasks.

Update your Resume

Before you start diving into the application process of your job search, dust off that resume! Take the opportunity to first update your most current employer, if you plan to use them as a reference. Next, research the latest resume template trends and update your formatting, as necessary. Carefully review your content and adjust any areas that may or may not be relevant for the new job you’re seeking. Lastly, add any marketable skills and attributes that would make you more valuable and appealing to your prospective employer.

Take advantage of online resources

With today’s technology, we are fortunate to have instant access to countless resources that can make job hunting easier. First, make sure your Linkedin profile is up to date and professional looking. Next, create a profile on popular job seeker websites. Also browse these same sites for potential job opportunities. Finally, familiarize yourself with your ideal employers’ websites to see if they have listed any job openings or career opportunities – and check back often!

Schedule time outside of work

Working a fulltime job while looking for a new fulltime job is essentially working two jobs. It will require a lot of time and dedication, but the reward is a new career that you love! It’s important to not use hours of your current job to look for a new job. Not only could this get you fired, it can also jeopardize this employer as a future reference on your resume. Basically, this requires you to use your personal time to job hunt, which is fair and reasonable. You will need to sacrifice social time and maybe even a little sleep and relaxation to put in the hours to find your new dream job. If this hard work seems intimidating, you should carefully consider your motivation to get a new job. No matter what, a career change requires a lot of work as well as stepping outside your comfort zone. If you’re committed to making a change, these (temporarily) long hours should seem manageable, given the potential reward at the end!

Are you currently looking for a new job while simultaneously working a fulltime job? Let us know how you balance both responsibilities or ask us a question related to this topic!

 
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Posted by on November 14, 2016 in Business & Success, Life

 

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How Public Relations is different than Advertising

PR vs Advertising

So often lines are blurred when it comes to Public Relations and Advertising. While the two certainly overlap, there are distinct differences that determine how and when you should use them in your communications strategy.

A solid plan can and should have elements of both, but it’s important to understand their unique roles and seek out different professionals to represent each one to ensure you’re not using Advertising to solve a Public Relations problem or vice versa.  Take a look at our simple, but helpful overview of these two industries.

Public Relations is…

Earned

Public Relations is also referred to as earned media or earned placement. You don’t pay for the specific placement of content, but there are other costs associated with issuing media relations and content creation that often comes in the form of paying a PR professional to create and disseminate this for you. However, compared to true advertising costs for the same size placement, PR is often a much more cost-effective option.

Viewed as objective

The goal of Public Relations is to garner earned media such as a newspaper article or news segment based upon the information you share in your media advisory or press release. Ultimately, it’s the media outlet producing this content for you, with their byline. As a result, readers or viewers often see this content as more objective (as objective as media can be, right?) than paid advertising which gives it trust and credibility.

Not always in your control

And while free and credible content are both great aspects of Public Relations, it’s important to remember that on the flip side, you are not in full control what’s written about you. Issuing a press release doesn’t mean a reporter will choose to republish every last detail you include. A good PR professional will carefully monitor how the media interprets your story and quickly react if there’s anything inaccurate or undesirable.

Advertising is…

Paid

Most obviously, Advertising costs money. You buy placement when you want it and how you want it. Every media outlet has their own department of sales reps to accommodate this very industry. They are constantly putting together new and enticing ad packages to get businesses to “pay for play.”

Viewed as subjective

Your audience will almost always know that an advertisement is paid placement. In a magazine, articles are marked as “advertisement” or “sponsored content.” On TV, a commercial spot is obviously different from a real news segment. Regardless of how truthful your ad is, your audience will view it with a bit more skepticism because they know you paid for placement and can (generally) say whatever you want.

In your control

Because you pay for specific placement of specific content, Advertising is a lot more controlled than Public Relations. You know exactly when an ad or story will run and what it will look like or say. Although the price of placement can be steep, you fully control your message.

Do you work in either the PR or advertising industry? What other differences would you say are most important?

 
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Posted by on October 17, 2016 in Business & Success

 

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Shifting Away From Shift Work: Forgetting the Life of a 9-5er

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!


Forgetting the Life of a 9-5erI realized I’ve now spent more of my career as an entrepreneur, building my own business and setting my own schedule, than I have as a 9 to 5 employee to someone else. It’s a milestone I’ve proudly earned by taking many other risks and sacrifices, but I still can’t help but feel a little spoiled for the life this has provided.

When my friends or family encounter a restriction because of their work schedule, I’m oddly aloof as to what this feels like. I’m unable to recall what it’s like to have to report to a desk every day at a specific time and stay there regardless of what, if any work needs accomplished during those exact hours.

Work doesn’t always come in between 9am and 5pm and it certainly doesn’t stop coming in at all other hours of the day. This raises the question of why, with all of the technology that allows us to work from virtually anywhere, do we still chain ourselves to a desk for a block of time?

I don’t know who I should credit for its original quotation, but this following thought often weaves itself into my conversations with people who ask me about entrepreneurship. “As an entrepreneur, you get to choose the 80 hours a week you work.” The hours of work per week will change, but the message remains the same. Entrepreneurs may put in long hours, but at least we get to choose these hours. This allows us to weave work around life, travel and important events that we may otherwise have to choose between.

I jokingly say that if I worked a 9 to 5 job, I would max out my vacation days before February of each year and with every passing year this joke becomes more of a reality. I’m grateful that the length of my vacations, holiday breaks and time spent with family are at my discretion. With a husband who also runs his own non-profit, I’m quite certain that without our flexible work schedules, we would be like two ships passing in the night. Instead, I’ll join him on a business trip and work from hotels and coffee shops. Or we’ll both choose to work from home for a day to spend a little more time together.

When you’re an insomniac, they say that you’re never really asleep and never really awake. As an entrepreneur, I feel quite similar with my work schedule. At any given time I never have to be working, but I’m also never not working. Email and cell phones connect me at all times with my clients, so whether I’m sitting in front of my computer or out grocery shopping, I’m just as accessible. This allows me to do anything at any hour of the day and so I try to be strategic with when I do what. For example, entrepreneurship has allowed me to visit the doctor or hair salon at times when most people have to be at the office. I can do my grocery shopping when the store is dead rather than fighting with the weekend traffic. I also schedule my meetings to avoid rush hour so I can easily sail down the highway and spend no more time than absolutely necessary in transit. These may seem like small perks, but I couldn’t imagine life without them.

I’m barely able to remember what life was like when I had the same exact routine every morning and a set time to be out the door. Every so often these clouded memories come back when I find myself scheduled for an early morning meeting or poor planning has left me stuck in commuter traffic. My immediate reaction is “How do people do this every day?” After the moment passes and I re-enter my entrepreneurial world of constant change and variable schedules, I realize this is also a reasonable question that anyone else may choose to ask me…

 

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4 Reasons to Keep an Updated Resume – Even When You’re Not Looking for a Job

4 Reasons to Keep an Updated Resume

If you’ve been settled into your current job, even for just a year, it may be time to revisit and update your resume. You might be thinking “Why would I spend my time on that? I enjoy my job and have no plans to leave anytime soon.” Unfortunately, our economy and personal situations are equally hard to predict and either could land you unexpectedly unemployed or with the immediate need to find another job.

By keeping an updated resume, you won’t be overwhelmed by the task of updating it with a decade or more of new work experience, or worse yet, creating a completely new one from scratch. This is a major time savings when time is of the essence!

Simply put, the power of keeping a polished resume throughout your career can be more valuable than you think. Take a look at these 4 reasons to keep an updated resume, even when you’re not looking for a job.

Resumes are used for more than just job hunting

Keep in mind that a resume serves far more purposes that just landing a new job. If you want to apply for an award, toss your hat in the ring to be a guest speaker or be considered for a promotion within your current position, an updated resume may be required. By keeping an updated resume, you’re that much more prepared to jump on these opportunities as they arise.

It helps you see areas that might need strengthening

Could some continuing education or an industry certification help give you more of an edge in your professional field? As you update your resume periodically, you can see areas that may need to be strengthened in order to keep up with your peers. As much as your resume is a snapshot of your past work experience and qualifications, it can also serve as a road map to your future professional goals. If you take the time to review it frequently, you will see the potholes that need a little filling.

You may not be looking for a job, but a job could be looking for you

Headhunters and hiring managers might see your qualifications (like on social media platforms such as Linkedin) and approach you about a job opportunity. By keeping your resume updated, you’ll be able to quickly act on such an offer without hesitation. This is all the more reason to also keep your Linkedin profile updated along with your printed resume. They duplicate essentially the same information, so it’s hardly any additional work, especially considering the potential gain from doing so.

If and when you start a new job search, you’ll be glad you kept up with it

Updating a resume that is twenty years old is far more overwhelming than one that is updated every year. Plus, think about all the details that are sure to get lost over time. Can you recall all of the responsibilities and achievements from your first job from memory? Not likely. If you commit to capturing this information on a yearly basis, your resume will stay up to date and comprehensive of all the amazing things you have accomplished in your career thus far. Best of all, whenever you find yourself in need of a resume, it will be as simple as pulling up the file and glancing over it for a quick review rather than blowing off a pile of dust and trying to recall details of your job from several decades prior. Your future self cannot thank you enough for this!

When’s the last time you took a critical look at your resume? Share whether you do or do not have an updated resume and why by commenting below!

 
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Posted by on July 25, 2016 in Business & Success

 

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