The one with the wine (and cheese)

It’s been a bit of a funny week really and I’m not sure I can pick just one highlight.

On top of a traditionally busy week as we hurtle to the start of a new month I’ve had a few issues to contend with when it comes to managing people.  When you work for yourself, and don’t have staff, it’s very easy to forget how difficult conflicts with other people can be to resolve.  This week I was thrown in to having sort something out on behalf of someone and it probably took more out of me than I initially thought.

In fact, it’s still bouncing away in the back of my mind long after the time was logged and the invoice has been sent.  That’s probably my biggest challenge of the week.

As for the highlights …

Those of you who are avid readers of my ramblings will no doubt be aware that Time Saving Heroes exhibited at thebestofBolton’s Big Bolton Expo on Tuesday.  You can read more about our experience here.

We had a great time, and have made some brilliant contacts.  The main reason I chose to exhibit in Bolton this month rather than in Bury is we’re looking to move in to the Bolton market, and it was a great introduction to so many businesses.

My personal favourite part of the evening was the speed networking. I’d never done it before, and despite the fact that I appear to have the confidence of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, I’m actually quite a shy individual.  So the thought of being forced to talk to a bunch of strangers for 90 seconds at a time was actually quite terrifying.  The reality is it was actually a ridiculous amount of fun!

If you’ve never been involved in this before I highly recommend it.  Just make sure you have a drink on hand for when you finish – I like a natter, but my goodness I was talked out afterwards and drier than Ghandi’s flip flop.

Another highlight occured last night, when I was lucky enough to attend a wine and cheese tasting event at Bury Football Club, hosted by Jean Juviniere Limited.

Anyone who knows me will attest to the fact that I like a glass (or five) of wine. While I greatly enjoy a tipple, the reality is I am more of a user than a connoisseur.  And I have been more than happy to live that way for years.  A wine tasting event has never appealed (other than the obvious opportunity to consume copious amounts of fermented grapes) for fear I will show myself to be uncouth. Of course, having a loud Essex accent already sets me firmly down that path as it is.

However, last night I went along with the intention of throwing myself out of my comfort zone in the hopes of discovering something magical.

Now, I can’t pretend it was a life changing experience (it appears I still cannot get on with red), but it was a lot of fun and I’m glad I went.  If nothing else I have found a whole new appreciation for cheese (combined with wine), and am now in love with Grandad’s Sausages.  It’s no wonder they’ve been putting a smile on Grandma’s face for over 50 years! They certainly put a smile on mine.

My takeaway for this week then is simply it’s always worth putting yourself out there, and doing things you might not fancy on the surface, or are a little nervous of.

#Legsit: Are we making a stiletto out of a kitten heel?

No one could have missed the Twitterverse reacting to the Daily Fail’s recent headline coverage of Theresa May and Nicola Sturgeon’s Brexit meeting.

Rather than running an intelligent piece discussing the conflicts and tensions underlying it and current events, Sarah Vine opted to provide a “light-hearted verdict on the big showdown”.

The account was so “light-hearted” that she went on to say “what stands out here are the legs – and the vast expanse on show. There is no doubt that both women consider their pins to be the finest weapon in their physical arsenal. Consequently, both have been unsheathed.”

Vine even referred to Sturgeon’s legs as “altogether more flirty, tantalisingly crossed” and “a direct attempt at seduction.” At which point I confess I up-sicked a bit and had to lie down in a darkened room for 10 minutes.

There is absolutely no doubt that this headline, and the entire article for that matter, is utter tosh.  Forget triggering Article 50, it suddenly feels more like 1950; however, there is a Pavlovian response when it comes to the Fail and this popular bandwagon.

Forgive me if I am missing the point, but I honestly couldn’t give a monkey’s.  I’ve written about everyday sexism on multiple occasions, and yes, this is a prime example – but what do you expect from a paper of this quality?

They have deliberately taken the view that it’s important to offer a dumbed-down version of events for their readership. So, they have looked at their target audience, ascertained the political context of the meeting was too “adult” for them, and have had to turn it in to a piece about legs and apparently Sturgeon the Seductress.

No, sorry, feeling sick again now.

I get the disgust, I get the “not in our name” and I get the condemnation; however, it’s just adding fuel to the fire and giving them more air time than they actually deserve. Can you imagine how much they can add to their online advertising rates now you’ve all taken the time to click on their original story? A story you would never have read in a million years if it hadn’t courted controversy.

IPSO aren’t going to be investigating the complaints received as they have not been made by either of the individuals concerned, who are at the heart of this so-called “discrimination”.  Which makes me think we’d all do a lot better if we were a little more May and Sturgeon in this matter.

While they both might be appalled that their meeting has been reduced to a commentary on their pins, they both accept it is what it is.  The Fail has run equally stupid front pages in the past – I for one will never get the image of David Cameron in his swimming shorts out of my mind.

However, there is often less indignation when it is a man on the brunt of it – when their political story has been boiled down to an image of their flabby middle-aged paunch jiggling about in the waves.  It’s no less derogatory, and no less pointless. But it is apparently less jarring.

Don’t get me wrong, I despise the fact that papers can take an important issue and turn it in to something completely trivial.  I hate the way photos of anyone are taken and people feel it’s their right to pick the model apart, commenting on physical attributes rather than anything that has any real meaning. But I hate it more when people get their panties in a bunch because it’s a woman on the receiving end.

Say what you like about the Fail, as least they’re consistently shit.  They’re an equal opportunity offender in that sense.

 

 

 

If you’re avoiding social media because of this, then you’re missing the point

The vast majority of the people who follow this blog are business owners (usually SMEs), and as such I imagine this post will resonate somewhat.

This week I had a meeting with a potential client who wanted to find out more about the services I offered.  Initially they were interested in content for their website, but conversation drifted to social media.  They immediately admitted they could see the upside, but the thing that worried them the most was this – what if they (i.e. their customers) took to social media to complain?

It’s entirely plausible that I’ve been doing this for too long because honestly it took me a while to understand what their problem was.

We all know that customers sometimes complain. Occasionally they complain for apparently no reason – some people just can’t be helped. No, it’s never nice to be complained about, so I get that; however, every complaint is an opportunity to wow.

Ah, but a complaint on social media could go viral they tell me.

Yes, I acknowledge, it could. However, you have 15 followers and sell a niche product, the chance is slim. And if it happened, your business would probably benefit from the publicity.

It’s not really worth the risk though, they argue.

Harumph.

Let’s cut to the chase here. Your customers will not complain because you are on social media. If they feel strongly enough to complain, they will find a way to do so.  This obsession that somehow a complaint on a Facebook page is going to destroy your business is simply ridiculous.

How did customers used to complain?  In person. The law of Sod would also dictate they’d wait until your store was at its busiest before they did so. The result? Other people would hear.

You know what impact those complaints have on your target audience? Nothing – provided of course you handle it correctly.

Online complaints are no different.

If someone complains on social media, and you address it courteously and in a timely manner, you will always come away looking better.   As a result, social media is not a thing to be feared. It is an opportunity to be embraced and one we really don’t think you should miss.

 

If you are concerned about how to keep on top of your interactions we offer a management service to take the hassle from you. Alternatively, we are always happy to provide advice if you have a specific concern when it comes to customer service.

Please get in touch by calling our hero hotline: 0161 883 2024, emailing hello@timesavingheroes.co.uk or messaging us via Twitter or Facebook.

 

 

 

 

So many business cards, so little time

Today Time Saving Heroes had the pleasure of exhibiting at The Big Bolton Expo, hosted by thebestofBolton.  Having attended a number of different expos, both as an exhibitor and a delegate over the past three years, I can honestly say this was hands down the most professional, friendly and well run event I’ve been to.

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The organisers did a great job of being on hand to help with any questions, and were always friendly, calm and fun to talk to.  At other events I’ve seen the people “in charge” running around like headless chickens, which I always think leaves a poor impression.  It also makes them very unapproachable if you do have a query.

With such a well-run event it’s impossible to come away, no matter what side of the stand you were on, without a handful of business cards and a bunch of new contacts to follow up with.  While it’s always important to follow up, after splashing the cash on a stand, it’s imperative. You need to justify that time, effort and just as importantly the financial expense.

This is where a VA can come in handy.  I know some businesses have a team behind them, and some may even have a whole marketing department, but for sole traders and SMEs this is not the case.  After spending a whole day exhibiting, you’re going to want to crack on with “work” the second you’re back in the office the next day, and then, before you know it, an entire week has passed and you’ve not sent a single email.

Admittedly, the contacts aren’t going anywhere, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t follow up in a timely manner.  The longer you leave it the harder it might be for someone to remember you, and any conversation you might have had.  Sending an email the next day leaves a good impression – it shows you’re organised, if nothing else.

How a VA can help

Here at Time Saving Heroes we have a number of clients that we only work with after expos and conferences.  It’s the only time they need to use our services.  Whilst every client in this situation is different, here’s what we do for most:

  1. If the client is local they will either drop off their new pile of business cards, or we will collect from them. If they aren’t local, they tend to take photographs and send them to us via email/Dropbox etc.
  2. Once we have the business cards we collate all the information in to a spreadsheet, which can then be easily uploaded in to their CRM systems. If we have access to the CRM system itself we will upload the data directly.
  3. If any information is missing from the business cards/leaflets we will take the time to search this out. It might be that there’s no Twitter handle on the card – so we will look to see if the business or individual is on social media, and find all relevant links.
  4. For most clients we will have pre-written their initial contact email, and now we will send it out on their behalf. It might be a specific email, or it might be in the form of a newsletter, depending on the client’s preferences.
  5. We will ensure we make contact with all businesses and individuals on behalf of the client via Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and any other platform they deem to be relevant.

 

After that we can help schedule certain individuals for further follow-up, as well as writing any other emails and/or newsletters that the client might want to send.

 

If you have been to an expo, conference or any other networking event and are worried that you don’t have time to capitalise on the new contacts you’ve made remember Time Saving Heroes. We are your secret weapon in the fight against time.

 

 

Why you shouldn’t hashtag all the things

As you would expect a large part of my professional life is spent online. I’m either writing or reading blogs, or interacting with a wide variety of people via social media. (occasionally I also do “proper” work, but I avoid it as much as possible). As a result I see a lot of the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to content and digital marketing.

One of my personal pet peeves, the sort of thing that makes me disappear in to a corner and bang my head against a wall is over enthusiasm when it comes to hashtags.  No doubt you’ve seen the sort of posts I’m referring to.

#Your #statusupdates #look #so #cool #with #your #hashtags #saidnoonever

Today one particular post has sent me over the edge (it contained 18 different combinations of essentially the same tag) and it’s time to call a Hashtag Intervention.

What is the purpose of a hashtag?

Once upon a forever ago the hashtag (#) was simply referred to as the pound sign.

For musical types, you may even have referred to it as the sharp sign.

Personally, it’s always been the noughts-and-crosses board, but I accept I may be in a club of one there.

Regardless of what the sign means to you, when it comes to social media the humble # has been elevated to supernova stardom. Now it is used to draw attention, organise and promote content.

Twitter started using hashtags to make it easier for users to find, follow and contribute to specific conversations. If you wanted to find out what the latest news was in Manchester, you would simply search #Manchester and you’d have access to everyone who had used that tag.

#Simples.

How to use them

Whilst many people will know what they are, and even what they’re meant to do, few seem to really understand how to use them.

Here then are my top tips to ensure you’re making the right impact:

  1. Be specific – whilst there are some rules when it comes to using a hashtag, the reality is you can pick anything. With an endless array of options it serves to be focussed. If you are selling products for newborns, don’t imply rely on #parents, instead try to attract #NewMums or #newborn #baby to really hit your target audience.
  2. Consider the platform – although you can now use hashtags on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram etc it is important to bear in mind the platform you are using. For example, Instagram tags will tend to focus on the content of a picture whilst on Twitter tags are used to engage in particular conversations.
  3. Don’t go too long – hashtags need to be memorable, and more importantly, readable. Hashtags count as characters, and if they’re too long to type, people simply won’t bother. Equally, too many words strung together and it becomes impossible to read clearly. #ItsNotACaseOfGoBigOrGoHome
  4. Maintain a balance – posts with more hashtags then general words are meaningless. It’s true that the more hashtags you use, the more users you are likely to reach as you tap in to more searches and conversations. However, your content becomes impossible to read as it doesn’t actually contain anything worth reading. My advice is don’t exceed more than five tags per post. And ideally, keep it lower than that.

As always, if you need any advice, tips or help when it comes to curating content or posting on social media, the team at Time Saving Heroes are on hand to help out. Give us a call on our hero hotline: 0161 883 2024, email hello@timesavingheroes.co.uk or get in touch via Twitter or Facebook.

 

 

 

 

It’s not about the money, money, money

When I was younger I had a number of customer facing jobs. For the largest part, I loved them; however, the downside was often the customer. Despite what they tell you at Front of House School, the customer is not always right. In fact, the reality is, on occasion, the customer is just a pain in the proverbial.

As is often the case when you are a lowly waitress, retail assistant or bar maid it is easy to imagine what it might be like doing a job where you aren’t directly at the coal face, having to put up with people’s bad moods and attitudes. Of course, it doesn’t take long to realise that actually, no matter where you are in the hierarchy, the chances are you’re going to have to put up with someone’s sh!t. That’s employment.

So then, when you decide to embrace the life of the self-employed bod, it can be tempting to think you’ve finally broken free of the shackles, and you really can tell people where to go if you feel like it. Of course, you can even if you are employed, though it’s safe to say you’re unlikely to be welcomed back for your next shift (and yes, there does speak to the voice of experience).

My point is, when you run your own business you can be forgiven for thinking, initially, that you are completely autonomous; but you’re not. At least, not if you actually want to earn any money, which is kind of the whole point. If you want to pay the bills, you need to be able to send the invoices, which means, for at least a while, you’re going to have to take jobs where you can find them.

They might be poorly paid, not really worth it jobs; they might be too time consuming or it might be that the customer is a complete and utter [insert word of your liking here]. We’ve all been there, and that’s just one of the realities of business.

However, it doesn’t have to be for long. I remember when I just started out, a much respected client of mine told me that the ultimate goal, for him at least, was being able to cherry pick the work he did, and the people he did it for. His plan was to be in a position whereby he wanted to earn the money his clients would pay him, rather than having to earn it.

I didn’t think much of it at the time, other than being pleased his goal meant he needed an extra pair of hands, and therefore secured me a regular income stream. Now though, over three years later, I completely understand what he meant, and confess to having embraced the ideology myself.

When it comes to my clients I have one job: to make their life easier. It doesn’t matter what task they need completing – social media, content writing, credit control, research – I’m there to save them time so they can get on with the more pressing aspects of their business. And I’m damn good at my job. Not being arrogant, it’s just true.

That said, I realised while I was great at helping other people out with their time issues, I was getting bogged down in my own. I’d be chasing after potential leads I’d been passed, and spending not insignificant amounts of times warming people up. I’d go over proposals with them, sketch out complicated editorial calendars, listen to their insane to-do lists and come up with plans to help them move forward.

I invested.

After chasing and chasing I’d invariably get to the point of securing the deal, and starting work. Then, the inevitable happened. The client, who was never 100% in to begin with, didn’t engage. Therefore they didn’t see the benefit, and when cash flow became the slightest bit of an issue (which it invariably did because they weren’t actually engaging), I’d get binned.

And my invoices would go unpaid.

And my emails would go unanswered.

I am a huge fan of trusting your gut, sometimes you just get a feel that someone is going to be a bit too difficult to work with. Don’t get me wrong, I love a challenge, and I have clients who do challenge me; however, that’s because of the nature of their work, or the tasks they need me to do, not because of their attitude.

While I understand the argument that you have to be consistent and relentless in your pursuit of particular clients, I actually don’t bother myself. If you don’t want to work with me, that is fine; I have no interest in forcing you and badgering you. There are other clients who do want to work with me and they are deserving of my time, energy and efforts, so it’s no loss to me.

Laid out bear on the cold digital screen I know I may sound a little bitter and twisty, but actually it’s not about that. It’s about knowing my worth.

Do you know yours? Ask yourself, honestly, how much time do you spend chasing down things that are genuinely a waste of time at work? Maybe it’s not leads, or clients, maybe it’s using the wrong social media platform, or not automating your invoicing. Perhaps you’re spending too long managing your email, or you’re not compiling effective to do lists. Are you mis-managing your time, or taking forever to write a blog post that could easily be outsourced to someone else?

Now is as good a time as any to ensure you are using your time more productively.

You’re so vain, you probably think social media marketing is about you

We all know people who are “inwardly focussed”.  OK, let’s not beat about the bush here, self-involved.  Whether they be friends or work colleagues, we all have that person who dominates conversation. If you have done something, they’ve done it better.  If you’ve been ill, they had it worse.  No matter what you’re talking about, they skilfully turn the conversation back round to them.

No matter who it is, or what the situation they’re in, these people are a royal pain in the what-not. However, when it comes to networking and marketing, it’s potential business suicide.

Think about the last time you went to a networking event and were faced with a total stranger who thrust their hand out, introduced themselves and shoved a business card at you. Five minutes later you’re still listening to them drivel on about their business, the product, their experience, their sheer wonderfulness.

Did you ever do business with them?

Have you ever referred to them?

Come on be honest, do you now avoid them at all costs?

Thought so.

Social media marketing is absolutely no different.  When I start working with a new client they often query what to post on social media, usually citing the fact they’re industry isn’t interesting enough to post about twice a day.

When I reply that the last thing they want to do is keep talking about themselves, their industry or their product they look at me like I have two heads.

But how will I sell if I don’t mention my latest gadget?

Over the years I’ve learnt to curb my urge to face palm and cry; however, this still remains my initial instinct.

I know I’ve said it before, but if you’re new, or have forgotten, let me say it again: social media marketing is NOT about selling.  It’s about building relationships with your audience, and you can’t do that if all you try to do is sell to them.

No matter how many of my ramblings you’ve read in the past, you may well find yourself thinking this makes no sense.  Your business is on social media because you want to sell things. Your audience knows you want to sell things to them, and clearly they don’t mind otherwise they wouldn’t be following you.

Right?

Wrong.

The key thing you need to remember is that your audience is not on social media because they want to buy things. They use social media day in, day out for entertainment, to learn things, to keep on top of news and current trends, to interact and to be, well, social.

Your constant posts to buy, buy, buy are nothing more than spam.

They can’t learn, they can’t interact, they can’t engage.

If they can’t do these things at any point, they will tune out.  It doesn’t matter if they unfollow you, or simply mute you – the end result is the same.

You are never going to get them back.

When it comes to social media marketing your job is to inform your audience.  Tell them about products that are on the market – even if you don’t sell them. Let them know you are the best person to come to when they are looking for advice.  Don’t judge every interaction by what you immediately get out of it.

A customer may come to you, ask your advice and go elsewhere. But they will always remember how you took the time to help them in the first place.  Next time they need something they may come to you and actually purchase. If you wow them then, I assure you, you have a customer for life.  And that is definitely worth whatever time it cost you in the first place.

People cannot build a relationship with someone who just talks at them constantly – you need to find ways to make them want to interact and engage with you. Let them learn about you, what your values are, what you stand for and what your experience is. Get them to care about your story.

Look after them, and they will most definitely look after you.