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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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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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What No One Tells You About a Career in Public Relations

Businesswoman sitting in boardroom with laptop looking frustrate

Beyond earning a degree in Public Relations and pursuing a few internships along the way, the best thing to prepare you for a career in PR is real life experience. Unfortunately, this also means there will be a lot of learning and adjusting as you go. As I approach my seventh year working in the industry, I may still be “green” in many ways, but I’ve gained a lot of knowledge and know-how that simply can’t be gained by sitting in a classroom.

Here’s what I’ve learned about a career in Public Relations that no teacher or text book will tell you. Take a look!

You will have to explain to people, often, what exactly it is you do

The TV show Sex and the City may be to blame for the myths and false assumptions about Public Relations. I promise, we don’t schmooze at publicity events and drink all day. I think everyone would pursue a career in PR if that were the case. Again and again you will find yourself having to define and defend what it is you do and the value it provides. The good news is you’ll establish a solid pitch that will serve to win over your clients.

You will be referred to as “marketing” again and again

I make it very clear that the services I provide are Public Relations, yet I’m often referred to by clients as their “marketing person.” While marketing and PR serve to very different purposes within a business, I can see why they’re often lumped into one broad category. At the end of the day, I really don’t care if someone refers to my role as marketing, publicity or business development. So long as we are on the same page with our strategy and deliverables, we’ll get along just fine!

People will expect guaranteed media placement for everything you pitch

In this industry, you will find that some clients are “press release happy” where they think everything the business does deserves media placement. Even when something newsworthy does come up, issuing a press release is by no means a guarantee that it will be picked up by the media. We know that, but we often need to manage client expectations. At the end of the day, the media will determine the fate of your news. Which brings me to…

The success of your strategy will be at the mercy of a lot of other people

The reality of Public Relations is that there will be many elements of your strategy which simply aren’t in your control. You will need to do everything within your control to set yourself up for the best possible outcomes, but at the end of the day you are at the mercy of the media, the community, your clients timely responses and approval, the weather (I’m not kidding) and a variety of other elements you can’t even predict until they hit you over the head unexpectedly.

You will get to see your work impacting the world

Finally, and most encouraging, is the truth that a career in PR allows you to see your work changing the world. Piece by piece, your PR strategy will cause a ripple effect that will change public perception, grow businesses, help the community and much more. When Public Relations does what it’s intended to do, it’s a powerful and beautiful thing!

Do you work in Public Relations? What “truth” of the industry did you find most surprising? Leave a comment!

 
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Posted by on August 21, 2017 in Business & Success, Life

 

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Why Didn’t My Press Release Get Picked Up?

Upset disappointed young businessman sitting with hands on head

Whether we PR professionals want to come to terms with it or not, the media is not our mouthpiece that will print exactly what we want, when we want it. They are the ultimate gatekeepers who determine the extent of media exposure that will be granted to us or our clients. The sheer volume of press releases that cross their desk each and every day ensures that only a fraction will receive review, and an even fewer number will be published in some capacity.

But don’t despair! Rarely is an ignored press release a direct reflection on your business or your media relations skills. Rather it could be any number of possible circumstances. Take a look:

It wasn’t really news.

The hard truth is that you’re likely to think everything your organization does is newsworthy because, well, it involves you. It can sometimes require taking a step back and role playing a reporter to determine whether or not something is worthy of media attention. Just because it’s not a good fit for the media, doesn’t mean you can’t promote it in other ways. Utilize your website, blog, social media, and newsletter to tell your story.

It was overly promotional.

Be sure to learn the best practices of writing a press release. Your headline can make or break your chances of getting picked-up. If you start off overly promotional, with a heavy focus on your business or brand, this is a huge red flag to a reporter that this isn’t a helpful “news hint,” it’s a PR tactic. As much as a client may want to see their name in the title, explain to them that this isn’t the best media-bait.

You’ve used this angle, again and again.

Is your strategy to, every month, announce the new businesses to whom you’ve sold services or goods? The first time you do this is the best chance you’ll have at gaining media attention. Every press release after that is beating a dead horse, in the eyes of the media. Reserve this angle for a truly noteworthy client, or present your new client information in a unique way. It’s easy for the media to spot a template press release which will quickly get you tossed in the “no” file.

It got stuck in spam.

There are major benefits to using an email platform like Mail Chimp or Constant Contact to send out your press releases. However, they can increase your chances of getting you sent to a spam folder. I’ve had my own clients’ emails skip my inbox and head straight for the spam folder, even after I marked previous messages from the same sender as “not spam.” The bottom line is to track your analytics, as these email platforms allow you to do. If it seems like a low percentage of contacts are opening your email, it may be due to their spam filters.

It was poorly written.

Another hard truth is that your press release may been poorly written to a point that your media contacts couldn’t see the value in the information you were sharing. I again reference the best practices of press releases to ensure you have the greatest advantage of getting picked up. You need to write to the media’s preference, not your own. Learn to embrace AP style!

You relied solely on a “Wire” for distribution.

You are likely familiar with PR wire services such as PRWeb, PR Newswire, and Business Wire. I have yet to have a client truly benefit from any pick-ups received from such services. I believe the value lies in personal contact, not some syndication service. Even if you’re hitting a list of several hundred media contacts, you are far more able to personalize your messaging and track their engagement from traditional email. Don’t waste your time or money!

You gave up too soon.

Finally, and most importantly, you may have just given up too soon. I have yet to receive a single complaint from a member of the media for sending out the same press release twice, each with a unique headline. Sometimes you hit them on a busy news day when they just don’t have the capacity to cover your story. A few days later might be the perfect timing for when they need a story like yours. Try and try and again – but two times is the perfect number. Anything more than that could work against you.

Most importantly, don’t drive yourself crazy over-analyzing the reasons your press release may have been overlooked – and don’t stop trying! Tomorrow is another news day.

Can you empathize with this experience? Join in the conversation by leaving a comment.

 

 
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Posted by on May 15, 2017 in Business & Success, Life

 

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Online Bullying Even When Working From Home (Contribution from freelance writer Jenny Holt)

The following post comes to us from Jenny Holt, who left her HR career behind to pursue freelance writing and to spend more time with her young daughters at home. This article is based upon her own entrepreneurial journey and balancing family and work.


Online Bullying Even When Working From Home

African man sleeping at his workplace in officeFor me, this is a personal topic. Bullying was endemic in the company where I worked prior to becoming a mother. Human Resources is a challenging and fast moving area of any business. At first it excited me – the ability to find ideal, new employees, evaluating them, helping them flourish and rewarding the good ones. However, it soon became like many other areas of business and life in general – a case of who you know, what you say to the right person, and more, how you destroy those you do not like. Those in power bullied the new, the weak, and the ostracized. This had nothing to do with ability or work ethic, but everything to do with cliques.

No Boundaries for 21st Century Bullying

The level of bullying increased whenever someone was ill, made a mistake, or worst of all, got pregnant. So you can imagine my own feelings on becoming pregnant for the first time. Sure enough, the bullying stepped up a notch. Luckily, senior management was flexible and accommodating, so they let me become a remote worker. My jobs could be done from home just as well as in the office and for a while this was fantastic; largely because I had a new daughter who brought joy to my life, a supportive and engaged husband, and maternity leave – sweet maternity leave.

Once back, even though I worked from home, I would receive bullying emails, text, Skype messages, and phone calls. Eventually I was released from my work for “under-performance,” despite being one of highest producing employees. Working from home is not a protection from bullying in the 21st century. Whether as a remote employee or a freelance worker, those who seek to bully will do so regardless of the working environment. It can be brazen and open or covert. In fact, the proliferation of smart devices, chat apps, online work platforms, and so on make it easier for bullies to get a hold of their targets and harass them 24/7.

What Employees can do to Reduce Online Bullying

If you need to leave your current employer or client, then you are presented with several options. There may be legal angles you can take due to the nature of the bullying. This is, however, a long term compensation rather than a solution. Finding new clients is obviously the first thing for a freelancer to do. Being self-employed, there are benefits and problems when work is slow, so it can feel difficult to give up a source of income and trade it in for insecurity. If you have been earning for long enough, you may be eligible for unemployment insurance. While there are federal regulations, most of this is handled on a state by state basis. Any unemployment insurance and benefits can be vital in giving you the chance to turn around your situation and find new employment, new clients, or a totally new direction.

However, it may be possible to save the situation. Being bullied has untold effects on our bodies and our minds, but it is not something to suffer or put up with. First, you should gather evidence of how you are being bullied by this person or people. Then you need to find the support of someone in authority – this can include a Union Rep if you have one. Check your legal rights under both federal and state law. Then you need to stay tough, hold your ground, and sadly, as noted above, have an exit strategy just in case. Now, the important part is not to confront the bully directly because they can and will twist this to suit them. First confide in management or a colleague, and work with them to address the situation.

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Bullying can come in all shapes and forms – and even from someone you consider a friend. If a colleague or client’s actions are causing you mental and emotional distress and impacting your work, it’s time to take action. No amount of money is worth putting up with negative and harassing comments. Often it’s the subtle harassment that builds up over time that is the hardest to identify. Working together doesn’t mean you have to be friends, but it absolutely means you must treat each other with respect!

Have you been a victim of workplace bullying? Please help us shine a light on the common occurrence of this very important topic!

 

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The 5 Biggest Myths About Public Relations

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Somewhere along the line, the Public Relations industry has been attached to some common myths that frame the way in which people value this service for growing their brand. Throughout my entire career spend working in Public Relations, I have found five reoccurring themes of PR myths that have challenged me to prove to clients they are simply not true.

Take a look at these myths and the real story behind them, and let me know if you agree or disagree!

  1. Myth: Public Relations can solve marketing and business development issues, too.

Truth: On several occasions a prospective client has contacted me to help them grow their business by adding Public Relations. After an initial meeting, I start to pull back the layers to discover some problems, far bigger than a lack of PR, exist. Things like a lack of focus, no business development plan and inability to scale are just a few of the common offenders. No amount of Public Relations, no matter how good, can fix these types of problems. In fact, PR that pushes customers to a “broken” business will only amplify these problems.

  1. Myth: Public Relations is a lot of twisting truths and calling in favors.

Truth: Thanks to Hollywood and TV shows like Sex and the City, people have somehow gotten the impression the successful PR professionals are those who rub elbows with the right people and lie or blackmail their way into getting good press for their clients. Ha! The truth is you catch more flies with honey than you do vinegar and this applies to Public Relations. Building genuine relationships, delivering honest and accurate information and providing reporters with relevant tips and timely follow-up are the ways to really earn good press for a client.

  1. Myth: Public Relations delivers results almost immediately.

Truth: Especially for clients who are just beginning to implement a Public Relations strategy, they want to see results almost immediately. Not every press release, social media post or YouTube video is going to go viral, but that’s not a reason to not promote your news. You never know what the media is looking for that day, and your information could catch someone at the right moment and result in a really great pick-up. Also, every time you put yourself out there, you’re building brand recognition in the long-run.

  1. Myth: Public Relations results are easily quantifiable.

Truth: Just as Public Relations is not immediate, it is also not easy to quantify. Unlike paid advertising that can give you a pretty good estimate of the number of people it should each during your ad campaign, Public Relations is a lot more volatile. You’re trying to earn media instead of purchasing it, which means you don’t have control of the results. On the flip side, when you do earn that live interview or feature story, it’s worth far more than anything you could purchase – and it only costs you the time you or your PR professional put into it.

  1. Myth: Public Relations is overpriced.

Truth: I’ve personally experienced a few clients who will set a meager monthly budget for Public Relations, but blow 3 or 4 times that on their monthly advertising budget. People expect advertising and marketing to be expensive, but then want Public Relations to be cheap. It’s a mental block I haven’t quite figured out. What I do know is that a good PR strategy can easily return its investment each month with a single press pick-up. People are getting better and better at tuning out traditional advertising, but still perceive a news story as genuine, trustworthy and memorable.

What other myths have you debunked in the field of Public Relations? Share your personal experience by leaving a comment!

 
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Posted by on January 16, 2017 in Business & Success

 

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