Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Personal productivity tips for small business owners

personal productivity tips
You can't control time - but you can control how you use it
Time is money when you’re running a business – so wasting time means you’re wasting money. And none of us knowingly want to do that.

A question that you’ve probably reflected upon as a business owner is how can you achieve more in the time that you have available. The success of your business relies very much on how effectively you use your time.
Have you experienced days where you’ve been running around frantically in your business - so busy and overwhelmed that it seemed like you could hardly pause to take a breath? And yet when you looked back at the end of the day you wondered how much you had actually accomplished,  and how much of real significance was achieved? …..  Just because you’re busy, doesn’t mean that you’re productive.

Personal productivity is about ensuring that you are focusing your time and energy on the things that will add the greatest value to your business. It means ensuring that that you are using all of your resources wisely - including your staff, materials, tools, data and equipment - and that you are completing the right tasks efficiently. There is a limit to the number of projects you can optimally work on in any given week – so you need to be selective.
Recently I had the opportunity to chat with Steuart Snookes, who runs a consulting business called Solutions4Success in Melbourne, Australia. He is a specialist in the field of personal productivity and effective time management in the workplace. He agreed to share some of his experience – and offered some priceless tips …..

1.   You’ve been running your own consulting business for many years – what have you found to be some of the major challenges and frustrations associated with being self-employed. And what are the compensating rewards?
One of the major challenges running a consulting business is that old chestnut of achieving a continuity of bookings. Almost all self-employed consultants struggle to even out the ups and downs of revenue and keeping a steady stream of income that can be totally relied upon.

Juggling the many hats that have to be worn to cover all bases is another major challenge as a sole operator .... Prospecting for clients; marketing activities; sales meetings; preparation, delivery and then follow up of workshops, presentations, coaching sessions, webinars; ongoing research, development and updating of content; catching up with peers; and all the administrative tasks such as invoicing, banking, database maintenance etc. Of course, some of this can be outsourced but how much of it depends of solving major issue number one!

And a third major challenge is that it can be very hard to ever really feel ‘off duty’ and to switch-off. I just had my first real holiday in a long time (three and a half weeks) but even then, work-related activity was constantly at the back of the mind.
The positives of running your own business include the huge benefits you gain with the flexibility and freedom of how you choose to allocate your time, which allows me to enjoy a number of personal interests I could never pursue if not self-employed. Along with that is the pleasure of travel (which I mostly find enjoyable) and meeting lots of people, many of whom are truly inspiring. And the highlight is probably the feedback received that the work I am doing is having an impact – it is very satisfying to know that I am making a positive difference.

2.   Steuart, you’ve worked in the field of personal productivity improvement for more than a decade. You’ve consulted with small business owners and coached senior executives  ...... What are some of the common mistakes that people in business tend to make in the way they go about managing their time on a daily basis? 
It may seem surprising but the common issues and difficulties are remarkably similar amongst most of those with whom I work. They are largely a result of our human nature. Most of the effective time management techniques and strategies are the opposite of human nature. So it takes lots of self-discipline, effort and energy to establish and then maintain good habits. Chief amongst these is the need, in most roles, for reasonably large chunks of uninterrupted time (on a regular basis) to focus on a high priority task.

"Single-tasking" allows the task to be done quicker and to a higher standard than if it is attempted when interrupted. But time, attention and focus is becoming increasingly fragmented in the modern workplace due to our ever-changing technology. Each of us is now so much more accessible to others and to sources of information than ever before. We have a wide range of devices distract our attention, causing us to work in a constant state of multitasking.
Some of these interruptions will sometimes have a high value. But when they interrupt an activity we are already engaged in, it compromises the attention we can give to either one. An example that highlights this comes from a controlled pilot program in San Francisco where a nurse who is preparing medications wears distinctive clothing or stands inside a clearly defined space whose meaning is “I’m doing critical work and you may NOT approach, speak to or interrupt me”. Results showed not only reduced interruptions, but also a significant reduction in medication errors.

Other common issues include inadequate planning; attempting too much; ineffective delegation; procrastination; ineffective meetings; and unrealistic and/or uncontrolled expectations, especially around timeframes (which reminds me of the saying “there are no unrealistic goals, just unrealistic timeframes”).

3.   Email overload has become a problem and source of stress for many business owners and managers – what are some simple strategies that can be used to gain some control with this?
Mastering email overload revolves around getting control of the three ‘W’s – WHEN to address your email, WHAT you do when you are addressing it and WHERE you place it once dealt with.

With email arriving in a constant stream these days, it is a major source of interruption, so it’s critical to control WHEN you allow it to get your attention. In a special report I’ve written on this subject, I’ve listed the 7 critical impacts of email and information overload – interruptions; loss of focus; multi-tasking; poorer decision-making; lack of ‘think’ time; degradation of crucial business activities such as meetings, manager-subordinate interactions, workload planning and communication effectiveness; mental health; and ultimately, quality of life (worklife balance).

So much of the negative impact from email results not from WHAT it is, but WHEN it arrives. And it really is so easy to control, by scheduling specific times to address email and turning off all alerts so that it doesn’t interrupt time doing other important tasks (many of which arrived by email themselves).
Even those people working in roles where they need to look at email on a frequent basis will be more effective by addressing email in a focused block of 5-10 minutes every half hour (16 times per day) or 15-20 minutes once per hour (8 times per day). Other roles allow checking email less frequently. Once the WHEN is under control, it becomes much easier to apply the WHAT and the WHERE more effectively.

4.   Forward planning and forward thinking is often said to be one of the keys to running a productive business. But there can be so many different types of changed conditions that can prove disruptive to one’s plans – staff who become ill, customers who turn to a competitor, unexpected cash-flow problems, equipment or technology crashing – is it better to avoid planning too far ahead?
Yes. It’s a good idea to have plans for the long, medium and short term and then adjust your focus according to the current situation. For example, year-end is a logical time for longer term planning but when you’re in the middle of a busy season you might refer only to short term plan. It’s good to regularly refer to medium and long tern plans to help keep perspective – it’s very easy to get caught up with the immediate and short term activities.

We tend to overestimate how much we can do in a day but underestimate how much we can do in a year. A longer term plan sets the compass bearing for the direction you’d like to be travelling in and that’s why it’s good to check it on a reasonably regular basis. It’s so easy to get off track when your focus is only on the immediate and short term.
As Stephen Covey said, we can often be very busy focusing on each rung as we climb a ladder only to get to the top and find it’s standing against the wrong wall! It’s also important to have 30 and 90 day plans and refer to these on a very regular basis (say weekly). These time frames give enough of a sense of urgency to keep moving.

5.   What can the business owner who employs staff do to ensure a productive workplace – how can they ensure their employees are working in the most efficient and optimum way?
I think you hit the nail of the head when you say ‘ensure a productive workplace’. So much can be done by controlling the environment rather than trying to control the people.

Most of us want the satisfaction of working hard, achieving results, making a contribution and feeling we’re part of a team but the space we work in so often mitigates against this. Most roles these days are multi-faceted and require different types and levels of thinking and conversation, but we attempt to do all of these various types of tasks and activities in the same workspace (usually a desk or cubicle).
Yet there is a real case for ‘different space for different activities’, especially if the usual workspace is highly interrupted. With most of us having access to mobile computers, smart pads and smartphones, we can now much more easily relocate to a space that suits the type of work we are doing. Move to a shared workspace for collaborative work; move to a closed space for individual work; move outdoors to free up creative thinking and so on. Most of the highest value work that can be done as a small business owner is what happens between our ears, often when we are in a reflective, thinking or ‘musing’ mode. It’s at these times, when we involve both the sub-conscious as well as the conscious mind, that we gain powerful insights, break-throughs, solve problems and have those special ‘aha’ moments.

Yet this is exactly the sort of ‘thinking’ time that has been squeezed out of the modern workplace due to overload, interruptions, attempting too much etc etc. There is great value in having more control (and flexibility) on where and when we tackle our key tasks and activities.

      6.   Any final personal productivity tips for small business owners?

Ongoing learning & improvement
To use the Japanese term – "Kaizen". Given the pace of change in the modern world, we need to be continuously learning & improving in each area of our business and also in our own personal development. It’s not a once a year activity - but an ongoing process.

Given that so much of good time management and productive practices and behaviours are nearly the opposite of human nature, we need to be working on them constantly. Workshop participants often say to me after a time management training session that not much of the material was new to them but that is was great to ‘refresh’.  Most of us know what’s required but don’t implement it on a regular basis. One of the essential disciplines is to consistently plan, prioritise and schedule specific time for your high priority items.
By putting the ‘big rocks’ in place first, much of your other activities will then fall into place....... Hope these thoughts have been helpful.

Thank you to Steuart, for sharing some of his experience with us. And here's a short video clip that reinforces the point about learning to focus on the top priorities in your business ...

Related articles -
Time management tipsStress management tipsSelf-motivation tips

About the author
Brian Carroll is the founder of Performance Development, a corporate training business in Melbourne, Australia.  He is a qualified psychologist and experienced management coach with a passion for helping people achieve their goals in life and business. You can find out more about Brian at his Google + profile

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Yes, you can be a parent and run a successful small business

An increasing number of "mumpreneurs" are succeeding
  • You need to be adaptable

If you're thinking about starting your own small business, one important lesson is the importance of being adaptable.

Whether it’s through the need to adapt to a change in the marketplace, or a change in regulations, or a change in technology – you’ve simply got to be able to embrace change and remain open to facing new challenges.

Adapting to a change in your personal circumstances - such as having children - can require a complete review of the way you approach work and how you intend to generate an income stream for the future.
  • Choosing what's right for you

But when you become a parent and have a young family, it's not easy juggling your different responsibilities ..... and this can be particularly challenging for women. Some women choose to forego their business and their careers, feeling uncomfortable about the prospect of being a "working mum". But it's all about choosing what's going to be right for you. 
Although women are often said to be more inherently capable of multi-tasking than men, never-the-less motherhood is a time consuming responsibility.

One mum's story - starting a business, selling the business, then starting another one!
This is the story of a remarkably adaptable and entrepreneurial young woman, Jules Blundell, who has discovered the key to successfully balancing family responsibilities with running a business. She is a mum who is building a business that is becoming an industry leader in the use of video animation – having helped hundreds of SME owners transform their websites into a more captivating online experience for their potential customers.

I recently asked Jules to share some of her experience with starting up and running a small business - and yet being a mum at the same time .....

1.   Jules, you set up and ran a recruitment business in the U.K, for several years before selling it. Then you started up VideoBuzz here in Australia.......  What has been the motivation in running your own business?

I originally trained as a primary teacher in NSW and had set my sights on a long and industrious career in education. After 2 years of being bullied by senior management in a school in which I worked, I decided to throw in the towel and went overseas backpacking. Whilst in England, I made the transition into teacher recruitment and then upon returning to Australia, I was given an amazing opportunity to start the first educational recruitment company in Sydney.  I built this company up and had it turning over $2Million in just 2 years and I loved every moment of it.  I had managed to find my new passion.  I had worked with some inspiring leaders but always felt that my “business knowledge” was lacking, so I returned to England to complete my MBA. I wanted to be able to talk the talk as well as walk the walk.

Whilst in the UK, I had identified a gap in the teacher recruitment market and set out to fill that gap. I succeeded in winning a government grant to help launch the new recruitment business.  In our second year we won a contract with Leeds City Council leading us into building new technology for a school improvement system. So now we were both a technology and education recruitment company.

A few years later my husband was headhunted for a position in Melbourne Australia and it was an offer we simply could not refuse.  We placed our two businesses, Bluewave International and SWIFT on the market and within 6 months they were sold.  At the time, I was pregnant with twins, so we returned to Australia to have a family. 

After taking time out, I slowly returned to work. It was in 2012 I launched Marketing Hands because it was time for me put my entrepreneurial shoes back on again.  In 2013, Marketing Hands morphed into VideoBuzz, because I wanted to secure a niche in a business area that was on the rise but also highly creative.

At VideoBuzz, we take your key business messages and turn them into fun and engaging videos.  We are really passionate about what we do and love working with our clients to carve the right message for the right audience.  But we particularly like the smile on their face when they see their video for the first time…..priceless J

2.   What have been some of the similarities and differences you’ve found in the way small business is conducted here in Australia compared to the U.K ?

I think small businesses’ in the UK have greater access to funding, either directly from the banks or from government grants offered by both the UK and the EU.  We were living in an area that was a major focus for economic development and we were able to leverage off this greatly. 

The other area where the UK stood out was speed of connection, making life considerably easier for running a business because you ALWAYS had fast speed, no downtime and a strong customer service culture with the telco’s, regardless of the size of your company and this made a big difference. They wanted to help you to do business better and faster, and I remember landing back in Australia and a telco rep, said “of cause you will get downtime, it is expected” and I was stunned.

Like Australia, there is a strong entrepreneurial culture and a strong ambition to succeed.  But I think that the entrepreneurial culture in Australia is more open and community orientated. The massive amount of network groups and organisations that are there to support small businesses owners in Australia is amazing.  I am not sure if this has changed as a result of the economic downturn, but I found the UK tended to operate their businesses in a more isolated way.

3.   Jules, you set up VideoBuzz because you identified this as a growth industry and yet with many opportunity gaps remaining. What are the benefits to small business owners of incorporating video in their website – and what sort of costs might be involved?

Oh dear, where to I start.  Every business needs video and the first reason you should have a video on your website is because Google and other search engines will rank your website higher, increasing your chances of being found (interviewers note - for more tips on getting your website to rank well, visit our post Getting Found by Google).

The second reason is that consumers these days prefer to watch. They are time poor, using mobile devices and don’t want to spend hours reading text.  To support this notion, did you know that only 20% of people visiting a website will stop and read the text where-as a whopping 80% will stop and watch a video. 

Videos not only respond to customers needs, the information is actually processed and retained better than anything they have read. People will only remember 10% of what they’ve read after 72 hours as opposed to remembering a much more impressive 68% of what they’ve watched after 72 hours.

Lastly, video increases purchasing behaviour. Invodo (2014) found that shoppers who view a video are 1.81 times more likes to purchase than non-viewers and 52% of people who watch a video are more likely to make a purchase.

Video is about to explode, 74% of all internet traffic in 2017 will be video and they are predicting that 1 million minutes of video will cross the net every single second by 2018.

If your business is not using video, then the chances are that you’re missing customers at a higher rate than you first thought.

In terms of production costs, there are many variables that can influence pricing. But as a broad guide, costs can range from $500 to $2,900, depending upon the video duration and the extent of creative design that may be required. However, we will always seek to offer an affordable video option and work within the budget of our client.

4.   You’re an experienced mentor in the Australian Business Woman’s network..... What are some of the things you’ve seen women struggle with when they first start running their own business?

I think the biggest challenge for “mumpreneurs” is TIME. Our working hours are bound by our children schedules and health.  The minute one of the kids gets sick the brakes get put on and that can be really frustrating particularly if you’re working to tight deadlines. As a mum of 5-year-old twins, this is definitely my greatest challenge.

When mentoring, I think the other common issue I see women struggling with is access to effective networks, coaching and mentoring.  People typically start their businesses from their lounge room and the first 6 to 12 months can be quite isolating.  I think women love to chat things through so having a good network or mentor is crucial for women who run their own business.  When it comes to networking it takes time to find a group that is on the same page.  Most of them are at 7am in the morning or in the evening and that is just the wrong time for mums, as they are typically needed at home.

I recently joined Motivating Mums because they run their meetings during school hours and because I wanted to be part of a supportive network of mumpreneurs who were ambitious but realistic about what they could achieve at the same time.

5.   Do you think that anyone can run their own business – or are there certain critical qualities that are needed in order to succeed?

I think anyone can run his or her own business. Firstly they have to love what they are doing, because setting up and running your own business demands a person’s ability to be tenacious and persistent.  If you love what you do, then the hard times, are just blips in the road, not insurmountable mountains.

The other really important trait they need is a “love of learning”. As a business owner you’re constantly in learning mode. Learning from your mistakes, learning new approaches, learning management and leadership skills, learning advances in technology, learning from customers, learning from our peers and the list goes on.  If you not willing to learn and grow as a business owner, than I believe you are setting yourself up to fail.

6.   Running your own business carries it’s own set of pressures and can be quite overwhelming at times..... How do you keep yourself positive and maintain a healthy work-life balance?

Work –Life balance…. What’s that?  Just joking.

Because I am a working mum, I think my kids make me keep perspective.  I have to stop working to pick them up from school, feed, bath and put them to bed. I have to go to play dates and hang out with other woman and put down tools. 

I am also really determined not to work evenings… so I stop working around 5.30 when I am not doing the school run.  I believe that people only have a capacity to work a certain number of hours before their body goes into robot mode and stops functioning properly and continuing to work is simply a waste of time.

7.   Any final tips you’d like to share for small business owners?

Choose a business that you are truly passionate about otherwise it is just hard work. …. Love what you do first and foremost, and then continue to learn new ways to do business. Constantly evolve yourself and your business and challenge the norms.  You want to look back in ten years time and be really proud of what you have achieved and you need to make sure that your business brings you the lifestyle you deserve.
Thanks very much to Jules for sharing some of her story with us. More tips on successfully combining being a mum and an entrepreneur can be found at Mompreneurs

Possible business opportunities for stay-at-home mums

Here's a short video clip featuring a mum who shares three ideas for possible business opportunities that stay-at-home mums might consider .....
Authors note - A great article on this theme from the video, with some useful tips on how to get started is, "How To Start an Online Business" and another really useful link "Small Business Tips"

The importance of trusting yourself ....

And here's another inspiring short video clip that features a mum, Nicole Roberts, sharing her experience of starting her own business from home (called "The Unleashed Mum") ....... She makes an incredibly important point about the need to trust yourself and your vision, in order to persevere - despite possibly facing discouragement from well-meaning family and friends ......

About the author
Brian Carroll is the founder of Performance Development, a corporate training business in Melbourne, Australia.  He is a qualified psychologist and experienced management coach with a passion for helping people reach their full potential. You can find out more about Brian at his Google + profile