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.

Your phone and the Pavlovian Response

These days phones are almost everywhere. You probably have one in your pocket or handbag, one on your desk at work, and you no doubt have a landline at home too (though these days, it’s often hard to see why). You might even make the distinction between a personal and work mobile, to add more crazy in to the mix.

Phones are there to make communication easier; however, they make getting things done so much harder.

It rings, you answer it; it’s a Pavlovian response and a habit the vast majority of us can’t resist.

However, if you want to get more done it is essential you remember your phone, whatever guise it comes under, is meant to be a tool to help you, not constantly interrupt your day.

Here are my top tips for putting your phone in its place and ensuring you remember who owns who in this relationship!

#1 – Busy? Don’t answer it

You have a phone so you can be reached, but that doesn’t mean that you have to be available constantly. I have a client who will answer her phone no matter where she is – even when in the bathroom!

If you’re busy, you’re busy. Let it go to voicemail, trust me, if it’s important they will leave a message or call back!

#2 – Turn it off

Did you know you can actually turn your phone off? I know, it seems to be news to a lot of other people too. When you really need some quiet, uninterrupted time I strongly suggest turning your phone off. It doesn’t have to be all day, maybe just an hour, but knowing you can’t have any rings, bings or notifications for a whole glorious 60 minutes is an amazing feeling.

Personally I just put my phone on flight mode, but it’s amazing how productive I can be during that short space of time. If nothing else, it stops you being tempted to keep checking if you have missed something. It’s off, just leave it be for a while!

#3 – Respond with a text

If I have my phone on, but I’m not in a position where I can, or want to answer it I tend to cancel the call and immediately reply with a pre-set message such as “Sorry, currently in a meeting, will call you back shortly” or something to that effect.

It can be a great way of acknowledging the call (which is the main reason most people want to answer it in the first place) without being bogged down in having to deal with it there and then. It also buys you some time so the individual won’t phone you back in five minutes simply thinking there was a problem with the connection.

Of course, while everyone can no doubt accept the benefit of having periods of peace and quiet, there is always The Fear. The Fear that the call you miss is going to be the next big lead, client or job. What if they don’t leave a message, and you can’t call them back?

Receipts, expenses and mileage: three words a VA loves to hear

Every three months or so a pile similar to the one in the cover photo ends up on my desk. In fact, that photo was taken this morning, and the contents are still staring at me, whispering “come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough”.

It’s at this point I realise I’ve not left the office for days and I might have a few “issues”.

However, I digress.

This pile of papers is evil, and gives one of my clients a serious case of the heebie jeebies. Which is why it has navigated its way to me instead.

The contents include bank statements that need to be reconciled with numerous receipts, cash receipts for expenses claims, cheque stubbs that need to be tied to paid invoices, invoices that might still be outstanding … and in all honesty, a host of other nasties.

However, it’s come at a great time for me to provide another example of something you can outsource to a PA (whether virtual or otherwise). If you run your own business chances are you don’t have time to deal with this sort of admin. Yes, it’s important, and if you did do it on a regular basis the pile wouldn’t get so high but let’s not kid ourselves, in a toss up between filing a receipt or quoting for a job, we all know what’s going to win.

There is no contest.

Being able to drop a pile of paperwork like this off with a VA is a hugely liberating experience (so I am told, anyway). One client recently said

Giving you a carrier bag full of receipts is like a two hour therapy session. I immediately feel like a weight has been lifted because I know whatever is in that bag of c*@p is no longer my problem. You will deal with it and send me a lovely little spreadsheet a week later.

So there you have it – a VA is like therapy, but significantly cheaper.

If you have receipts piled up, mileage that needs to be recorded or expenses that need to be claimed give me a shout. Time Saving Heroes are on hand to deal with all the time consuming tasks, we can even upload to cloud based accounting packages or scan documents for later reference. Whatever you need, we can get it done because we are your secret weapon in the fight against time.

Call 0161 883 2024, comment below or email lu@timesavingheroes.co.uk if you want to book in for some time therapy!

Case Study: Email and Diary Management

Over the last two weeks I’ve been talking about how you can outsource your inbox to a Virtual Assistant, as well as providing top tips for how to better manage your email yourself. This week I wanted to give you an example of the work I do for one of my clients, and how it’s helped.

Jon runs a hugely successful property management business in Essex. To keep his overheads low he runs a virtual office, with the vast majority of tasks associated with the business either being undertaken by himself and his wife, or outsourced to experts.

He has a marketing firm handle all of his branding and social media, his wife Reenie manages the admin, a bookkeeper comes in twice a month and then there’s me. I’m in charge of Jon’s email and calendar.

So, what exactly do I do?

Although Jon has his own email, only the members of his team know what it is. Every other email comes to the generic “office” email address, which I manage. On an average day we can receive anywhere between 50 and 120 emails per day.

My job is to whittle this number down significantly. Ideally to less than 10.

Every morning I therefore filter the emails and delete any obvious spam. Any newsletters that might be useful in terms of content production I forward to the marketing team, and then delete.

I then answer any obvious queries, for example, requests for information on when work will be completed, or a property will become available again. The answers are all easy to find, thanks to the processes we have already put in place, and it just takes a few minutes to grab what I need and send it over to the enquirer.

Next I focus on meeting requests. These can be 121’s from his various networking activities, meetings with existing landlords or new ones, property visits etc. To save email exchanges taking place I tend to pick up the phone and call people to book them in there and then. There is nothing worse than suggesting a time and date, only for Jon to have filled that slot himself in the time it’s taken the person I am speaking to to get back to me.

Finally, I forward directly to Jon any emails I am unable to deal with myself. Usually these will simply be brand new contacts or potential prospects, as he always likes to be the first contact. Over the last two years, I have never sent him more than 8 emails in one day. Everything else I save him from, which saves him an insane amount of time each day.

The process is repeated during the late afternoon, at which point I also check his calendar and confirm any appointments he has for the next day to avoid wasted time.

Where necessary I also arrange travel, both domestic and international, and send invitations to his database for viewings and any events he is speaking at.

The time he saves in not having to deal with the mundane day-to-day management of his inbox is worth far more than what he pays me to deal with it on a daily basis. He’d be the first to admit that he was sceptical about it all at first, but after working with each other for a few weeks, we got in to a great routine, and he’s never looked back. Most people know that it’s me they’re going to be hearing from, and none of them realise I am not based in the same area (though, my accent probably helps out with this a bit).

If you want to find out whether outsourcing your email could bring benefit to you and your business, please give me a call on 0161 883 2024, email hello@timesavingheroes.co.uk or send me an InMail. I am always happy to discuss your options, or provide tips to help.

Top Tips for Managing your Email

Last week I wrote about outsourcing your email management to a VA, and why this can be hugely beneficial. While I am a great advocate of this approach, I am also a realist and I know for many people this is just not something they can consider, let alone get on board with.

With that in mind I thought it might be an idea to share some of my tips for getting on top of the Inbox Hell so you can work towards Inbox Zero.

# 1 – Set limits

If any of you have emailed me over the last few weeks you will have noticed I have an auto-responder set. Essentially it explains that my inbox is not monitored constantly, and is instead checked at specific periods throughout the day.

I find this is a great way to manage other people’s expectations. Some people when they send an email, expect an answer immediately; however, others are happy to wait up to 24 hours. For the largest part it depends on the precedent you have set, but also the urgency of the email itself.

Personally I find checking my inbox repeatedly throughout the day is a huge distraction. It is also a great way to procrastinate. If I have a task I don’t want to do, or am struggling with for some reason, you can bet anything I will just hit refresh to see if anything has snuck in that demands my attention. Nine times out of ten, even if it isn’t urgent, I will deal with the new email before tackling the task I’m avoiding.

Even I have my imperfections it would seem!

I know I can’t just change the way I am, so I have to remove the temptation full stop. Instead of spending a day with my inbox open (and therefore easily accessible) I close it throughout the day, and only open it at my pre-specified times.

This can be a great way to ensure your inbox doesn’t rule you, though I admit it can take some getting used to. How often you choose to check your inbox, and when those times are, will greatly depend on you. I have opted for three – early morning, mid-day and approximately 4pm. These times might work for you, or you might prefer to add in a couple of extra ones as well.

The point is, allow yourself time away from your email so you are not being dictated to constantly, or distracted by new requests.

# 2 – Introduce “One Click”

If you have adopted tip 1 you have suddenly drastically reduced the amount of time you have to spend on emails per day. This means you have to be far more efficient when it comes to actually dealing with them.

Over the years I’ve found many people handle their inbox very badly. They will open it up, see a number of new emails and then proceed to browse; perhaps opening a few, reading them, and then moving on to the next one. They might even hop around, cherry picking what they want to focus on. This is a complete waste of time as nothing is being dealt with, which means, at some point, you will have to go back and re-read an email to actually action it.

Stop the madness!

The One Click approach is simply that. Open an email and then click on just one of these buttons – reply, delete or archive/move.

Force yourself to do something with that email.

Does it warrant a reply? If so, provide it there and then. If it’s not your job to handle it, then forward it to whoever it is and CC the original sender in. Get it out of your inbox and in to someone else’s.

Is it simply for information purposes? Is it junk? Is it completely irrelevant? Then delete it! Just get rid of it and move on.

Maybe it’s not something you need this second, but will do later, in which case archive it. Hopefully you will have suitable folders set up so that you can assign such information to the right client, job, category etc. so it’s easy to locate at a later date.

# 3 – Keep it short and sweet

This is actually my favourite tip, and it concerns what to do when you are replying to an email.

Keep your reply as short as possible. In an ideal world, no more than three sentences! If your response is likely to be wordy, and therefore time consuming to produce, you are better picking up the phone and having an actual conversation. Remember those?

Not only is a lengthy response difficult for you to compose, it is also difficult for the recipient to read. Long emails tend to be skip-read, which means important information is lost, and valuable time is wasted. Why take all that time for no benefit?

Complex scenarios and concepts are often much better explained in real time, via an actual conversation. You are then better placed to answer specific questions as and when they pop up, and clarify anything in more detail if required. If you don’t have the time to explain it there and then, make an appointment for either a telephone or face to face meeting.

Get off the email merry-go-round and take back control.

Hope these help, feel free to let me know how you get on, or if you have any tips of your own that help you stay on top of your inbox!

Why you should outsource your Inbox

For the last two weeks I have talked about how a VA can help you become more productive, and will certainly help if you are currently feeling completely overwhelmed by everything you have to do. However, to date, I haven’t elaborated too much on precisely what you can (and should) outsource to a VA.

Of course the answer to that isn’t entirely simple. A lot will depend on what you do, how good you are at delegating and letting go of control, and what your VA specialises in. Some VA’s have a varied skill set as many will be time served PA’s, others may focus on specific areas.

However, one thing your VA should be able to do is handle your emails.

Now, hear me out. I know there’s a huge part of you (if not the whole part of you) that is visibly recoiling at the thought of handing your inbox over to someone else, someone who may, in all reality, be a perfect stranger, but ssssh my pretty.

Take a deep breath and carry on reading.

According to an O2 Business report published in 2015 the average worker sends 4,000 emails per year. Working on the basis there’s 365 days in a year, 105 of which fall on weekends, eight of which are public holidays and 28 are owed as personal holidays, that average worker only actually works 224 days a year. That is assuming they are never ill or have to take a personal day.

That means, on average, they are sending 17 emails a day. It might not seem like a lot, but assuming each email takes a minimum of five minutes to compose and send (which, in all honesty, is unlikely), that’s one hour and 29 minutes per day just sending emails.

Or, to put it another way 19,936 minutes per year, which is also known as 332 hours or 13 days.

That’s 13 days a year lost in email responses alone. And that’s assuming they’re quick and easy responses in the first place, or you’re a fast typer.

Apparently we receive even more than we send – 6,000 on average per year. You can do the math on that one.

The point is emails can be hugely time consuming, and a lot of them are utterly pointless. There is no legitimate reason that the task of dealing with them can’t be outsourced to a VA. Other than you perhaps find it a little alien and difficult to relinquish control.

Think about the emails you receive on a day to day basis. How many of them ask for the same sort of information? Could you set up template responses to send back a quick-fire response, or direct enquirers to a particular page on your website? How many are junk, forwarded from mailing lists you subscribed to years ago? If you’re not getting the benefit from them or the information you once thought you were, cut the clutter and unsubscribe immediately. How many group emails are you included in, that keep you tied up in a long thread that really has little or nothing to do with you?

These are just some examples, but it’s very easy for a VA to sift through the rubbish, reply to the standard requests and leave you only with the actual things that require your attention specifically.

Why not spend the rest of this week keeping a note of how much time you’re spending on your work emails? What could you achieve if you were a bit more precious with your time than you were with your inbox?

Find out how Time Saving Heroes can help – call 0161 883 2024, email hello@timesavingheroes.co.uk or get in touch with Lu via LinkedIn.

The One Day Rule

Few of us go for long at work without feeling completely overwhelmed. Whether it’s a never-ending to do list, or a mountain of paperwork to go through, we all have constant demands on our time that can occasionally clash to create a perfect storm of stress.

While there might be very little you can do about the amount of work you have physically come in, there are ways you can ensure you are handling it all a lot more effectively. While people talk about “managing time”, what you actually need is a way to manage your approach to the use of your time.

Unless you make a conscious effort to schedule your time, you are probably not being as productive as you’d like, or need to be. It’s this which leads to feelings of being overwhelmed and out of control.

One way to try and combat this is to utilise the one day rule.

Remember what it was like in your office just before Christmas? Everyone knew they were going off work for a few days (maybe longer if they were lucky) and a sense of panic ensued. So much to do, and a very finite amount of time to do it in before Santa arrived.

We’ve all seen the meme’s doing the rounds on social media stating you get more cleaning done in the ten minutes before someone comes over than you do in a week. Work is the same. That period before you go on holiday, or shut down for a few days, is your most productive.

Why? Because you become more ruthless with your to do list. Through the pressures of time you are able to see clearly what must be done, and what can be done – everything else can legitimately wait.

When you are feeling totally bombarded, try behaving as though you genuinely only have one day to get everything done. You will be far more focussed and efficient, and will be able to tick a lot of things off your to do list.

That’s one way of getting back in control, for everything else, there’s a VA!

If you want to find out how a virtual assistant can help reduce your work load in the first place, just give me a call on 0161 883 2024, drop me an email to hello@timesavingheroes.co.uk or contact me directly on LinkedIn.