Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Why your marketing strategy isnt working (and what to do about it)

So, you have a business you love. I mean, you really love it. And you think everyone else should love it too. But it isn't flying. And the orders aren't flowing in. Or the phone isn't ringing off the hook. 

And, actually...no-one really knows about it.

But why? 

Well, there could be lots of reasons. Many people often make the mistake that just because you love the business or your products and know about it that everyone else should too.  

But usually it comes down to one or all of the below.

So, let's break down the 'why' and then focus on how to fix the problems.

WHY is my marketing not working?

You don't have a plan - Not a real plan anyway. You haven't put together a proper strategy and you're essentially just 'winging it'. No marketing will EVER work without a proper plan to execute. 

You don't know your audience - Have you considered who your audience is? Sometimes this can be very obvious but sometimes it might be quite wide and varied. Or maybe you haven't even considered it?

You don't know your product - Do you really know what it is you're selling? Do you know why it's so great? What makes it good? 

You're not looking at your data - Now this is key! SO many people may have a plan, they have a target audience. They've defined their product. But you're not looking at your data to see whether this is actually true.

You're over complicating it - We've all heard about 'KISS' (keep it simple stupid) and it is always relevant. A long time ago, a previous boss (who I respect very much) said something which stuck with me. 'Do more of what works and less of what doesn't' Sometimes we can be guilty of looking at newer marketing trends and thinking we need to be doing that when that's not always the case. 

So what do I do?

To begin with take a look at each of the above statements and see which one/s apply to you.

Do you have a plan? If the answer is YES then great! 

You're way ahead of a lot of people who set up a business with no plan and just believe the customers will come. If you don't then you need one. 

A good marketing plan isn't complicated (despite what many people will have you believe) as marketing should be simple. It should include:
  • What do we do?
  • Who are our competitors and what do they do?
  • What makes us different?
  • Who are our customers?
  • Where do our customers hang out online and in person?
  • How do we get our message in front of them?
  • What channels do we use?
  • What's our message?
  • WHY should people use us?
  • How do we measure what we do?
Take the time to write your plan. To really look at all the above and write a strategy to fit.

If you HAVE got a marketing plan do you really know your customer?

If you know your customer you need to really think about who they are, what they do and where they hang out. Then think about why they might want your product. If you know all of this then it might be worth considering if your customer base is too wide? Sometimes we can have too wide a range of products or services which makes marketing quite hard. Have a think about what type of customer is the most important to you and consider just that group of people and how you focus on them.

Do you really know your product or service?

This is really common to not really know what you're selling. You think it's obvious but you've never really considered in detail exactly what you're selling and why. You need to know everything about what you're selling. In great detail. Only then will you understand who might want to buy it.

Are you looking at your data?

Recently I was working with a client who had just been collating email lists of people they thought would be interested in their product. T
hey had been emailing them information about their product every week. 

On closer inspection of their data I saw that NOBODY was actually opening the emails. 
But they were sending them anyway!
They weren't really looking at their message and what they were sending or who they were sending it to so I guess they ticked quite a few boxes above. You need to know WHAT is working. WHO is paying attention to your message and why. These people are genuinely interested in what you're doing so focus on them. I don't mean hone in on them and spam them with sales emails. I mean look at who they are. And look at why they're interested. And look at the message you are sending them. Once you understand your data it will really help you to fine tune WHO, WHAT and WHY and isn't that really the most important part of your marketing really?

Are you over complicating things?

Do you have a marketing strategy that works but you've read you should be doing X, Y and Z? Marketing is not 'one size fits all'. Just because one channel works for one business doesn't mean it will work for you so if you have something that works don't take your eye off the ball to try something new. 
You absolutely should NOT keep churning out the same thing just for the sake of it but don't try and be on a million channels and all things to all people. Especially if you are a small business. Focus on getting one thing right that you know works. 
Once that's running and doing well you can look at adding something else into the mix but don't try and run a million different promotions on four different channels whilst forgetting your key message.

Marketing works if you ask the right questions.

We could expand on WHY it might not be working but I would suggest the above are some of the main reasons things might not be going as planned.

Take the points that might apply. Grab a piece of paper and see what comes out. 


Just keep it simple, ask the right questions and revise your plan. And then you'll be flying!

HOWEVER! If you have tried a lot of the above and you are still struggling and need some support with your marketing then just drop us a line or give us a call 07887552888.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Have you ever questioned what is that you're doing with your life?

Have you ever questioned what it is that you are doing? Over the past 6 months or so I have felt like perhaps I have lost my mojo. Many of you will probably know how that feels. 

I was still delivering good work and I had lots of business and happy clients but something just wasn't feeling 'right'.

Over the last year I had begun to wonder whether I should continue being 'The Intelligent VA Company'. When my business began in 2012 I offered lots of services to lots of businesses. Probably too many services to be honest. I didn't know my niche. Or even really my audience. I could genuinely offer something to everyone. All this being said I (very rarely anyway) wasn't doing any traditional VA work. It has been some time since I did any admin work or PA support for example. 

I was heading off to networking meetings and standing up to talk about my business and there would often be 2 or 3 other VA businesses in the room. Now, I have no issue at all with that. There is more than enough work to go round but when I began to talk about what I did and what I could offer my services didn't match what I was actually doing. Nor did they match the kind of work I really wanted to do. I was putting myself in competition with other businesses when I didn't even do what they do anymore! 

Lots of, very smart, people talk about having a niche or asking who IS your ideal client? Problem was I didn't really know. 

BUT I had a good business. I was making money and I enjoyed the work and was delivering stuff my clients were happy with. Did I really want to change all that? To start from scratch?

A rebrand? More investment, more time, more research, more networking, more marketing to re-engage my new client base? Sounds like a lot of hard work to me!

Thing is, I had also joined Spaghetti Agency's #SocialSummerCamp to keep my brain ticking over and focused over the summer months. In probably the first week or so they asked me my 'Why'. Why do I do what I do? 

Shit. Now I had to answer the question i'd been avoiding for 6 months!

Five years ago that answer was easy. I set up the business that utilised all my skills i'd learnt in business so I could work for myself and be flexible with my time to fit around my children's needs. Nothing had changed about the latter part. The flexibility to be around for my children whilst theyre young is still the key driver to being in business for myself. But the WHAT I was doing wasn't right anymore. I wanted to hone what I do, to really focus on the stuff I do for clients that I LOVE and that delivers the most value. The stuff where they say at the end of each month 'Wow. I can't believe the difference having you involved has made' And now I have the confidence to build a business again from scratch. 

Now I have focus. 

Now I have my Why and my What.

How about you? Is your WHY and your WHAT working for you? Are you doing what you really want to be doing?

I get it's hard and it's scary and it would be so simple to just stick with the status quo (especially if things are ticking along just fine) but you owe it to yourself to be doing what you love. Life is just too short to be stuck with 'okay for now'.

So find your why. Ask yourself what you love and what you're good. Who you want to work with and why. Then see what that reality looks like. If you've made something work once you can do it again. Go for it!

My new brand and website are currently cooking away in the background and I have all the focus I need to go and smash it. It wont be easy but I wouldn't be me if I didn't go for it.

Can't wait to share it with you all! Watch this space.

Friday, 26 May 2017

An open letter to 4Networking

Dear 4N,

I was sat struggling to think of my latest blog topic when I realised that all my ideas and inspiration were coming to me from people i'd met at 4N or someone i'd seen 4Sight. And that is when it became clear to me what my blog needed to be about...

I've got to be honest. 2016 wasn't the best year for me. The business was doing fine, just ticking along but it was doing fine. I hadn't really been focusing much on what it was doing or what I wanted it to be doing and it was paying the bills so we were all okay.

Thing is I wasn't happy. I was trying to avoid that fact for quite a long time. My son was 2 at the time and still not sleeping at all and I was functioning on around 3 hours sleep a night. And running a family. And a business. Spinning plates. You know the kind of thing.

I could have been forgiven for not looking to drive and focus on the business. I was very tired all the time and I was also suffering from anxiety and panic attacks. I know nobody has it easy and, in comparison to the atrocity which occurred earlier this week, I didn't have much to complain about but my mental health wasn't the best and I was pretty miserable. And lonely. Oh so very lonely.

For over a year some cowboy called Todd (you might know him. He does something with social media I think. Or something) had been telling me I should join this networking group called 4N. He said it was amazing and regularly waxed lyrical about why online. I thought he sounded brain washed and that this 4N thing sounded like a cult.

Thing is I had thought about joining. But then I would have to face up to all the things bothering me in my head. Panic, anxiety, loneliness, no direction for my business. No plan. Why the fuck would I want to do that?! Why would I want to stand up in front of people and talk about my business? Why would I want to stand up and talk at all? I had no plan. I was a sham. I was just tootling along with a website and a name i'd built up. But I wasn't happy.

Fast forward January 2017 and I was nearing the end of my CBT sessions (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy for those who may not know) which was helping me deal with my anxiety and depression.

 During a session she said you have to face the thoughts and the fears. Let them into your mind but let them know YOU'RE in charge. Not them. So there and then I Facebook messaged Todd and asked him to book me as a visitor to Leamington Lunch.

I left the doctors and watched the first Claire and Todd on the sofa which talked about Belief and went home to write a blog about Self Belief.

I had a full on panic attack on the drive to my first ever meeting. I fumbled my way through my 40 seconds (why the hell didn't I rehearse?!) and spent half of it hiding in the toilets. Then I had my 1:1s two of which were with a Claire. Claire McTernan and Claire Russell who just made me feel at ease. They explained about 4N and showed me how it could work for me. They treated me like an equal and were really kind.

 I thought I was going to wander into a big clique of people who just networked with each other. Wrong.

I filled my placemat  in and joined there and then.

Since that date 4N has honestly changed my life. I'm not just saying that. I was lost and sad, confused, bewildered, lonely. Did I mention lonely?

I do have friends of course but I worked alone from a home office. A lot. And all the friends I have don't know what it is like to run a business. I love them but we don't have that much in common anymore and nobody understood what my day to day was like. I really wanted some friends!

Fast forward to now and I feel like the people I have met within 4N are real friends. I feel I could call them for advice and they would be there for me. I feel part of a gang over litterally thousands who are all on exactly the same journey as me. Cliquey? Nope. A more helpful network of people you're not likely to find.

I've got myself 7 new clients since January (and I didn't even join for business!) , I've made friends, i've learnt SO much from 4sights and 4N development lives. I've delivered a 4Sight (yep stood up and talked to my peers for 20 minutes with no panic attacks), i've become GL of Leamington Lunch, i've given work to loads of my fellow 4Ners, i've invited visitors and preached about the benefits. I've booked on courses. I've spent time with the amazing Claire McTernan who has helped me to see the wood for the trees and re-focus.

Finally, for the first time in a while, I know where i'm going. And I know why i'm going there. And i'm not lonely now. And i'm off my tablets and standing up in front of people every week. I'm getting out there and I know it's just going to get better.

And i'm happy! Like really happy.

And it's all thanks to 4N and some cowboy hassling me about some shit networking group I just had to go to. Hate to say it but he was right.

So thank you 4N community. Thank You to Brad for not giving up all those years ago. Thanks to Todd and Jo for just being ace. Thanks to Claire for that 1:1 and for Claire for so much support I can't even write it all down and for asking me to be on of your GLs. I'm really honoured to do that.

Thank You x

PS - It doesn't work.

Monday, 10 April 2017

Low budget and free marketing ideas for small businesses

You've set up your new business. You're really excited about the future and the potential. But you need to tell EVERYONE about it. And you have no budget to do this. No marketing spend allocated WHATSOEVER. Do you know what I hear most of the time when I meet with clients? How much is this going to cost me? Marketing is expensive and I don't have the budget.

But do you know what? Marketing DOESN'T have to be expensive. A lot of marketing can even be free. 

I was very lucky in my very first marketing role. I didn't have a budget. Na-da. Zip. Nothing. 

I had a supportive boss, a blank sheet of paper and TONS of ideas. My brief was to increase a sports crowd from a small amount of people to begin filling the building weekly. And that's exactly what I did. 

It is really simple to market something with a budget. You can pay for adverts (online and in print) you can pay for radio promotions, newspaper promos, bus advertising, pay per click ads, leaflet drops...even TV ads if your budget will stretch. 

But you know what having a budget can do sometimes? It can make you lazy. It can make marketing a box ticking exercise. You can throw money at it and get as many eyes on your product as possible. But is that the best marketing for your product? Is it the best route? Don't get me wrong. I'm not suggesting having a marketing budget is bad. I'm just saying NOT having one can be a positive if you let it.

But if I have no money to spend, how do I get the message out there?

Simple - Think outside the box. Ask yourself the right questions. And have a clear strategy. 

Here are just a few low budget and free marketing ideas for you to try.

Build relationships - Starting with this one because it is BY FAR the most important. We all know that people buy from people. Fostering and building relationships is one of THE best forms of marketing around. When you build a relationship with a person you also build trust. When you trust a person you are FAR more likely to work with them than not. You're far more likely to help them out when they need it and you're far more likely to recommend them to a friend or share their products.

Create Great, Evergreen content - Content is king in marketing and it is great for your profile and for having people find you online. Evergreen, essentially, means reusable content. The more content you create to share the more people will find you and the more people will begin to understand your brand and your message. The online world moves so fast though that you do need to create, share and regularly re-share your content.

Get Listed - Another simple (and mainly free) marketing trick is to find all the local online listings relevant to your business and get your information on there. These listings are often found in searches on front pages so ensure your business details are on there AND that they're up to date.

Find your audience - Ask yourself. Who is my audience? Who would buy my product? And then ask yourself How do I get in front of as many of those people as possible? For example; say your audience is families. How do you get your message out to as many people in that group as possible. Where do they hang out online? Who else do they talk to. Then find a way of getting your message in front of them.

Go Live! - Getting your message out there online is so much simpler these days. Online messages are a great way to connect with your audience. I'm not talking about a sales pitch. I'm just talking about telling people what you do but, more importantly, helping people. Creating great, useful content that people need. Giving away tips and ideas. Even just engaging with people. It all goes back to relationships and building your brand and reputation.

Get Linkedup on LinkedIn - Depending on your audience chances are they are on LinkedIn. LinkedIn is a great tool, especially for B2B, and can be really effective as part of your marketing mix. People don't like being hounded or spammed remember so make sure you connect and make sure you share lots of great content and get involved with conversation. By all means let those people know what you do just don't hassle them and start by building that relationship and offering support and help.

Think about PR - There is a perception that PR can cost lots of money. Whilst this is true in some instances PR doesn't have to cost the earth. Much of it, again, comes down to relationships. Building relationships with PR contacts and becoming their 'Go To' person. All you need are ideas and angles. What story could you talk about that would interest your audience? Could you become an industry expert and be responsible for their FAQ page in your field? Have you any community activities you can get involved with? TOP TIP: If you provide good photos and ready made, pull off the page, content and send regularly people will use it. With the growth of online press and the need for lots of articles and content staff will always welcome good content that they didn't need to spend hours sourcing.

Networking - Networking is one of THE best ways to get your business and your message out to people and it is often free and always relatively inexpensive. A lot of people make the mistake that 'the people there don't need my services' Always remember this is about growth and fostering relationships. It's about gaining trust in you. If people trust you they trust your business and are likely to work with you or recommend you. And remember...you NEVER know who they might know.

Cross promotion - Who out there is after the same audience as you? Why not pool budgets and ideas. Share the cost of leafleting. Share each others leaflets with offers to each others audiences. Two heads are always better than one and you and quickly save money and double your potential audience by working with similar businesses in your industry.

Get blogging - Blogging is a free but effective way of getting your message out there. Blogging is great for SEO and for showing that you know your onions. If you can establish yourself as an industry expert in your field then people will start looking to you for the answers. And the answers lie within your business.

Give away things for free - whether you want to build your followers on your online channels or your subscribers  you will need to encourage people to interact with you. Everything is 'opt-in' so make sure your content is great and helpful but dangle a carrot to persuade people to join in. Online competitions work really well for stuff like this. Giving away your advice for free in downloadable documents or white papers. Free e-books. Anything to encourage people to be part of your gang and want to know what you're going to say.

Build your mailing list - There are many free campaign mailing tools out there for small businesses and these should be used. Again nobody is interested in your spam or #BuyMyStuff as many people I know say. They 'might' be interested in your product at some point though and building the relationship and general awareness will help them choose you when that decision arises so make sure your email marketing is interesting and informative and you give information away that will actually help people.

Think about referalls - Do you current customers know anyone else who might want to work with you? In many instances a referalls programme works really well and is quite inexpensive. If a referall results in a contract the referer could benefit from money off. Or a voucher. Or similar.

Facebook Ads - Not FREE but not expensive. Putting FB ads into your budget is a smart thing to do. This is a surefire way to promote yourself but to a targeted audience. It is simple, affordable and can be very effective. It always offers a great ROI

Become Award winning - There is not much that says 'we know what we're doing' than a nice shiny award saying that others agree with you. Find and enter as many relevant awards to your business as you can. It's nice to have and attend, it endorses that you do know what you're doing AND it's great for producing PR.

Ask for reviews and testimonials - 92% of people do research online before making a purchase so they are going to look at what people are saying about you so do encourage people to leave you reviews and testimonials on Facebok, LinkedIn, on your website, google reviews and video testimonials. Again great for SEO and great for content. Plus it validates what you're saying - 'we're good at what we do'

Utilise Facebook check-in - Facebook check-in is a great little tool for awareness. If a person checks in at your business or ticks the 'going' button on the facebook events tool all their friends and followers see it on their feed. This just increases more eyes on what you do and more awareness of your business.

Get involved in your community - Regardless of marketing activity you should get involved in your local community. There will be loads of stuff going on that you can support which will be great for you and your business. Community involvement is great for awareness, for branding, for PR PLUS it makes you feel great as you can actually make a difference to the area in which you live. Win win!

And there are LOADS more! Don't be afraid of a limited budget. Embrace it! I promise it's worth it.

All this said we do support all sizes of business with their marketing efforts so if you do need additional support please give us a call. We promise to ultimately save you money on your marketing budget! ;-)

Visit us www.theintelligentvacompany.co.uk

Thursday, 5 January 2017

The power of self belief & Dumbo's magic feather

First day back at work after extended holiday with my lovely family and I was musing what to write in my blog. I was watching a fabulous Facebook Live (really worth a watch) with the talented and inspirational Claire Russell and Todd from Spaghetti Agency where they were talking about goals for 2017 and the importance of such things as motivation and self belief. 

The belief thing struck a chord with me and so I decided it should be the focus of my first blog for 2017.

Belief is a funny old thing. Some people just brim with self confidence and belief. Some people have absolutely NO problem in believing in themselves, or their product or their business. It comes as naturally to them as talking. Of course, for some people, it isn't always that simple. Being confident and having belief in yourself and your own abilities doesn't always come easily BUT you can change that and it is something that can be learned if you know how.

Take Dumbo as an example. You remember that loveable, big eared, Disney cartoon elephant. Ridiculed by his friends for his big ears. Didn't fit in anywhere. Sad and alone (brutal film!) . 

But someone believed in him and offered him a 'magic feather'. With this feather Dumbo truly believed he could fly. And he could. And he did. And he was the star of the show. Till one day, mid-flight, he dropped his feather. The belief in himself went floating away to the ground. Would he crash? His mentor told him it wasn't the feather, it was him. 

The feather wasn't real - it was all him. 

And Dumbo flew! Because he believed in himself. You just need to find your own magic feather.

Visualise your success - Imagine you could picture in your mind what you want your business to look like this. Who you would love to work with. What your office might look like. What you have on your walls. How will it feel when you achieve that goal or goals you have set yourself?
The power of visualisation can be really, really powerful. The real thing behind this is; if you can't see yourself or pictures yourself achieving your goals then, chances are, you probably wont. So start visualising!

Be your own mentor - I do this a lot. Give myself a bit of a talking to when i'm feeling less than confident. Personally I do a lot of 'WWXD' Aka What would X do. There are lots of people who inspire me and it quite often helps to put myself in their shoes and think 'What would X do' 
A great example of this is a lady called Vikie Shanks Vikie's story is incredible. As single mum (after her husband committed suicide) of 7 children six of which are Autistic and one Dyslexic and the two youngest also have Cerebral Palsy. Vikie is now an author and a mentor and has the kind of inner strength it is almost hard to believe. If ever i'm having a bit of a crap day I just think 'What would Vikie do?' Trust me - it really works.

Become a Superhero - Remember confidence is a persona. A bit like Spiderman putting on a mask. Even if you don't feel it at the time if you put on that mask and act confident people believe you. Which makes you feel good. Which makes you feel confident. Which gives you belief. You just need to find your alter-ego!

Find the positives every day - Lots of people I know keep a positivity journal. This can really help you to reference on days when you might not be 'feeling it' If you can take the time to find something positive in your day it can help to change you overall mood from negative to positive in an instance. It's only something small but it can make a big difference. 

Let go of your mistakes - This is a big one for me. Letting mistakes fester and affect your mood really can affect your mood and your day. It can affect your self believe. Start to question yourself. Are you really good enough? If you were good enough you wouldnt have made that mistake. STOP.

You have to remember that EVERYONE screws up sometimes. No-one is perfect. Just accept you're human, Be honest. You made a mistake. The important thing here is to learn from it. Mistakes often are a good thing. They help you tweak your processes to make them even better. They help you ensure a higher level of quality simply because you don't want it to happen again.  So, learnt from itm put it behind you and move on.

All the world's a stage - I remember the very first time I was due to give a lecture at Coventry University. I was absolutely terrified. Then I thought about what I used to tell myself before I did a big presentation or pitch at work. Confidence is all about attitude and belief. Putting on that mask. Becoming that character on the stage. You are a brand. People buy from people and people buy from you and your brand so you have to be believable. And you have been ASKED to make that pitch. You've been asked to do that presentation. You've been asked to deliver that talk or lecture. And you've been asked because somebody believes you know what you're doing. THEY believe in you. And the people you are presenting to or talking to are going to be interested in what you have to say. They WANT to hear from you. Remember that. You know more than them. So put on your face, turn on your smile and believe in yourself. Because THEY do and that is powerful.

Embrace your flaws - Again, nobody is perfect and, generally, your version of yourself is actually not what other people see. It is all in your own head. We are all unique in our own way and our flaws are what sets us apart and we are the only ones who can see them. Focusing on the negative just zaps your time and energy. Accept your flaws in whatever form they come and just live your life. Taking the obsessing over what you could perfect away gives you the energy to use elsewhere.

Every day is a school day - I think this is really key. Getting out there and learning new skills, devloping and honing the skills you have and investing yourself is a great thing to do. It can realy help to build confidence. Often you can go along to a course and realise 'hey. I actually know more than I think I do' and this can do wonders for your self belief. 

Find your tribe - It is important to surround yourself with like minded people. Positive people who build each other up and not knock each other down. People who you can take advice from and who you can offer advice to. Having the right people around you can do great things for your confidence and self belief. If the people around you believe in you then you can really start to believe in yourself

Remember YOU have to believe in yourself and it will make a huge difference to you. Think about it. If you don't believe in yourself why would anyone else want to do business with you or buy from you. You are interesting, you are special and you just need to remember that. 

How you get to that point is down to you. Whether you find your proverbial magic feather, decide on your superhero alter-ego or just give yourself a damn good talking to every now and then you just need to get to the point where you can hold your head up high and say;

'I'm glad to be me. I'm good at what I do and my life is actually pretty damn cool'

To find out more about us and what we do you can visit our website here 
Or follow us on Twitter.

Monday, 19 December 2016

Self Employed? How to take time off at Christmas (and why you should).

Christmas is looming, the kids have broken up from school, factories have closed their doors for the new year, teachers are enjoying that lovely break from the children and you? Well, you're self employed. So you're at your desk as you are every other day.

But this doesn't HAVE to be the case. Yes we all know if self employed people do not work they don't get paid but you're a human being. You need a break from work as much as the next person. The dangers of working too much can even be deadly. Did you know a person who works over 55 hours have a week have a 33% increased risk of having a stroke?

You CAN take time off for christmas (and any other time of the year for that matter) you just, as always seems the theme in my blogs, need to be ORGANISED. Check out our top tips for taking some downtime for christmas when you're self employed.

1/ Plan your time off in advance - Simple right? Obviously the big thing for most people is the loss of income during your time off. What this usually means for me is November and December are VERY busy times of the year. I always put more in the diary than usual months and front load the work (working longer hours and a few more hours per evening) to put more in the pot. 

2/ Watch your pennies - Try and be more frugal with your money at this time of year. Less meetings with expensive brand named coffees, less travel time and less fuel costs, less parking fees

3/ Squeeze your time - I mention it above but if you can map your time in advance you need to understand exactly how many hours you have available and how much work you can fit in.

4/ Communicate with your clients - ALWAYS ensure your client knows you are taking the time off WAY in advance. Reassure them and demonstrate to them how you are going to fit your workload in. I submit ALL my holiday dates to clients at the start of the year and how the work will be covered. Everyone knows where they stand and are comfortable that they are still getting a great service.

5/ Cover your work - Whether you do as I generally do and front load the work so it is all done and covered by the time you take your holiday or whether you outsource and handover just make sure everything is covered. This will differ from client to client. Some of my clients shut down themselves so there is no work to be covered. Some are happy to take back in house for the week/s i'm off. 

6/ Save for holidays & contingency's - Every single month I put money into my holiday account. At the start of the year I work out how much I need to cover loss of income that month and put a small amount per month into the contingency pot. This pot is SO useful if you are sick, if there is an emergency or if you plan on taking holiday during the year.

7/ Schedule extra time after your break - I always make a point of booking extra hours and childcare when I return from a break to ensure I have time to get back on top of things when I return without extra stress.

8/ Once you're off, you're off - Ensure you turn out of office on, do a full and complete handover and turn off email notifications. Let your clients know they can, of course, contact you if there is an emergency but if you've done a thorough handover (leave no stone unturned, it'll help you feel ready to take a  break) there really should be no need for contact. It's important to you to really relax so you can return to work invigorated, rested and ready to take on a brand new year!

Taking time off is so important for your mind and well being and often even more so when you are self employed and it can make a huge difference.

For more hints and tips about how to be organised and productive when self employed check out our website www.theintelligentvacompany.co.uk 

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Top tips for improving your productivity at work

Being organised is THE best thing you can do for your business. Being organised makes us more effective, makes us feel calmer and makes us think more clearly. 

And it is really simple to do if you know how!

Becoming organised ALWAYS comes down to your own efficiency. Essentially we want to know how we do things faster but still thoroughly? I've said it before and i'll say it again but it all comes down to managing your TIME.

Follow our 'top tips for improving your productivity!

1/ Understand your time V workload - So very important this one and absolutely tip number one.There's NO point taking on work that you do not have the time to complete within the time you have available. This is where we get ourselves into trouble and begin to add pressure which will make us LESS productive.

2/ Have a realistic 'To Do' List - At the start of each week take the time to list EVERY single job which needs doing that week. Put those jobs in order of priority. Ask yourself what HAS to be done today and what can wait till the end of the week. Everybody is guilty of procrastinating and 'cherry picking' the jobs you would prefer to do. Even if those jobs are of a lower priority. This is a MISTAKE. Put the jobs in order and then DELIVER them in order. That way you stick to deadline and keep stress levels down. This will really help your productivity.

3/ See it, do it. -Entrepreneur Steve Olenski recommends implementing the "two-minute rule" to make the most of small windows of time that you have when working. The idea is pretty simple. Essentially if you see a job that you know can be done in two minutes or less, do it immediately. According to Olenski getting this task out of the way immediately takes LESS time than returning to it later. Perhaps you see something needing to be done whilst on route somewhere else in the office. Some filing perhaps. Or changing the ink in a printer.    You could do those quick jobs now, or leave them for later. If you do them now that is another job knocked off your to do list. If you do that several times a day it reduces everything you need to which frees up your time to get on with the bigger stuff. My productivity has gone up hugely since reading Steve's article.

4/ Quit your meetings! - Ask yourself if you REALLY need to have this meeting. So often we have meetings for meetings sake. There is a weekly meeting penned in the diary because, well there just is. Do you need it? Do you need to travel for it? Can it be done online? Could it be resolved with a quick phone call? Ask yourself how necessary it is. If you really don't need to why not make it a fortnightly meeting. or just a meeting when necessary. It can saves HOURS in your day. Just ask 'is it the best use of my time today'

5/ Map your hours - I've blogged about this before and it helped me to understand and breakdown how much work I have to do on a week by week basis. If, like me, you have multiple clients and multiple contracts it can be tough to try and juggle the work and ensure you are giving each contract the time and dedication it needs. Especially if you don't know exactly how long you're spending on each job. Make sure you map the hours you have available versus the hours you are committed to doing the work. You don't have to stick to it like a rigourous timetable as it is totally moveable but you need to ensure you have enough time available to deliver. It will help you understand your workload on a week by week basis and tackle it with a clear mind.

6/ Take a breakMake sure you take regular breaks throughout your workday. Just a trip to get a drink and taking a short lunch makes us more productive. Give yourself a breather and time away. Your brain needs a rest!

7/ There's always a chance to work - This comes back a little to the two minute 'see it, do it' rule. If you find yourself with downtime. Maybe you're on a train, sat in doctors waiting room, waiting for a meeting to start, waiting for your computer to re-boot. Even boiling the kettle. I always have a quick think if there is anything small I can knock off my list during that time. A quick email reply. A quick phone call. Quickly update your to do list. File your 'done' emails into a folder. Is there anything you can do to reduce the load?

8/ Minimise interuptionsThis is so simple. If you have allotted time to write a proposal or presentation that is what you do during that time. Don't answer a call from another client or colleague. Ignore the blinking email notification. Do the job you have sat down to do. Speaking to another person about something else will put you off the job in hand. That person/email/message will be there is an hour when you can deal with it and assign it the time it deserves. Just make sure you do get back to them!

9/ Track your time - You may think you know how long something takes but have you actually timed it? Are you giving a project or a client longer than you've actually planned for? Or even invoiced for? To ensure you are productive you need to understand how long your tasks are taking you. Only then can you ensure you have given yourself enough time to get a job done.

10/ Stop trying to be perfect! - Big one for me. I used to try almost too hard to get things perfect. Nothing is EVER perfect. Someone somewhere wont like it. Someone somewhere will have a note or an edit. Biggest thing is try not to overthink it. Just sit down and do it. Editing can be done at a later time if you aren't happy but getting something to your boss or your colleague or your client and moving on is really good for productivity. If they want changes they'll say and you can make them but getting it done and dusted and not over thinking and trying to be perfect is a great way to be productive. Nothing like a big penline through a task marked as 'done!'

So there you are. Simple really! If you are still struggling with your workload though we can help! Why not outsource some of it to us! Give us a call 07887552888 or email sally@theintelligentvacompany.co.uk

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Life Hacks - How to Map Your Time

I was chatting with a colleague recently who was struggling to fit everything in and getting a bit overwhelmed with, well, life in general I suppose. I asked her how she maps her time for the week and she told me she didn't. I was, honestly, really surprised! I thought everyone would map their time in one way or another. 

I showed her my week by week map I use to map out my time and my tasks and she said I should share it in my blog so...here it is! 

*apologies it's slightly larger than the page!

So, essentially, as you can hopefully see each day is broken down by the hour and each day is split into work and family. I then add my codes from the table below.

This allows me to allocate EVERYTHING which needs to be added into my working week. 

I use the calendar to map...

Clients work - To ensure I have allowed myself enough time to deliver the work I map all work to last letter and always give myself some extra hours to allow for contingency

Business growth and general management- All the things I need to ensure I keep my business in a healthy position. This includes;

  • General admin and invoicing
  • Marketing - Blogging and reading other blogs/keeping on top of any changes 
  • Servicing - Looking after my clients

Personal - I map everything I need to keep on top of in my life including:

  • Children - extra curricular activities, school activities as well as downtime
  • Life admin -doctors appointments, dentists, banking etc
  • Exercise -I like to ensure I allocate hours to exercise weekly and it is so much easier if you plan when that is going to happen
  • RR-which is my time to relax.

The key to a good time map boils down to the following:

Leave no stone unturned! Make sure you map EVERYTHING that needs to be done no matter how small it is. It will help manage stress levels knowing you have everything planned for and the time to do it.

Be realistic - Don't allocate an hour if you know it takes two. It isnt realistic and will throw your plan out of balance

Be flexible - If things need to move, switch don't sweat it. Just decide which item is least important for that week so you can bump it off the weeks plan and move it to the next week

Keep on top of it - Keep the plan open and stick to it. Ensure you do a new plan each week. You will find some weeks you have more time for rest or maybe exercise of time with the children because you have less life admin that week etc. 

Remember YOU are in control!

There are 24 hours in a day and you CAN fit everything in (although I get it means life can be very busy) if you are organised. Just remember to work with a bit of give and take and ensure you balance work hours and life stuff on your plan. My next plan is to colour code and weight work and home stuff to ensure i'm balanced but i'll keep you updated on that one!

If you still struggle with time management and think there are not enough hours in the day why not talk to us about how we can help and OUTSOURCE some of your work to us. We can manage your home life with our PA and Concierge services or support your admin needs with our admin support services. 

Follow us @intelligentvaco
Call us 07887552888

Monday, 6 June 2016

How to maintain a work/life balance.

I've just returned from a fantastic week with my lovely little family in my favourite place ever, Croyde Bay, North Devon. 

We had a great time, we were so lucky with the weather and we had some real 'down time' as a family.

<< < My kids Ella (7) and Jack (2) enjoying the lovely sunshine outside our trailer tent.

We go to Croyde several times a year and I always make sure that, whilst I am there, I am with my family 100% and not at work. 

I think that is SO important and a decision I made very early on in my business. In fact, it was one of the main drivers for setting up on my own so I could maintain a work/life balance.

I love my business but I also love my family so it is important to me that I give them both equal amounts of attention. This can be a tough balancing act BUT it is more than achievable and i'm going to share a few of my tips on how you manage it!

1/ Plan, plan, plan, plan, plan! You cannot possibly start to fit your work and life commitments into one day, one week, one month without knowing EXACTLY what you need to get done. I always begin my listing everything which needs to be done (work commitments and family commitments) and then assign those tasks with how long each task will take. You are then in a position to break that down and plot those tasks into your planner. I literally plan by the hour. Everything from food shops and school runs to any client stuff which needs. Once this is all in front of you in black and white you can make sure you have the right amount of time for each task. Personally I just pop the tasks into an excel spreadsheet by the hour but there are loads of apps which can help with this too.

2/ Do not over commit. The temptation is always there to take on more work. Whether you work for yourself or for a business there will always be the temptation to do more work. More work inevitably means more money. Don't get me wrong. More money is marvelous but not if it throws your work/life balance off. 

3/ Use a time tracker - I always track my time using Toggl for all my accounts. It helps me understand where my time goes and whether I am allocating adequate time for tasks when I do my initial planning. It also helps understand whether you are quoting for a job correctly once you know how long these jobs actually take. 

4/ Build downtime in- You cannot maintain a work/ life balance if you are maxed out and stressed to the hilt. You really need to find a way to unwind so you feel ready to face whatever your day (whether that is work or family) has to throw at you. Some people like a bath, some go for a run, some read a book. I like to exercise and I like to sit down with my husband and watch an hour of TV. Everyone is different but I make sure I build those little things in to my day so I feel like i've wound down.

5/ Try and fix your hours - It really helps to know when your working day starts and ends. Especially if you have young children. Having a clear cut off means you can turn your attention from work to your family. Being able to do this comes down to point 1 - Plan, plan, plan, If you have planned your hours your work should be done!

6/ Do a time audit - Is there anything sapping your energy? Is there something you dread having to find the time to do every single week? Take the time to do a little audit. 

  • I hated having to do the washing up four billion times a day. I bought a dishwasher which cut that time down and made me happier (it's the little things!) 
  • I also had clients who's accounts were taking FOREVER but not paying anywhere near enough. I had to address this and get this sorted. 
  • I was going out at 1pm to get my son (as he napped in the afternoons so I could work) every day and going back out at 3pm for the school run. This was counter productive so I changed my sons hours till 3 so I now do one trip. Such a little thing has made a massive difference to my day. 
  • I was giving time up for PTA tasks because I felt I should even though I had no time available. I spoke to the chairperson and asked to be responsible for one task every three months instead of the ad-hoc volunteering. That way I could build the task into my plan. I was still helping but there was more structure to my helping. Really take a look at how productive you're being with your time. It'll help!

7/ Get some sleep. Poor sleep means poor productivity. If you are tired you are not going to be as focused or productive as you can be. Try and ensure you get sleep and some early nights where you can.

8/ Outsource! If you are thinking 'okay i've read all this and there are still not enough hours in the day for me to fit everything in' why not look at outsourcing some of your tasks. Whether you need a PA or concierge to take some of your day to day household tasks off you or someone to take on your pile of admin we will be able to help, Why not check out our services.

To find out more about us visit our website or follow us on Twitter

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

How to stay focused working from home

I have been pondering what to write in my most recent blog for a few weeks now when an 'online networking colleague' I know posted in our networking group with blog post suggestions. He said you should answer questions you're asked a lot in your blog as it's information people want to know.This does sound fairly obvious on the face of it so it got me thinking...'What question, relating to what I do, am I asked regularly?'

I'm asked daily/weekly 'What exactly is a Virtual Assistant anyway' but I have blogged about that in the past here but another question i'm always asked is 'How do you stay focused working from home?'
Inevitably, when chatting to people about what I do, people say 'ooh I couldn't work from home, i'd be too distracted' and this can be true for many home workers which is why it is important to set yourself some rules and boundaries to follow. 

With that in mind, here are my top tips for staying focused when working from home!

1/ Be Realistic - I will be totally honest and say this is the first thing you need to ask yourself. Is home working for you? Are you easily distracted? Are you likely to get pulled into jobs in the house or something you want to see on the telly one day? Do you need company? If you answer YES to any of those then you need to seriously think about whether working from home is the right thing for you because the one thing you need is 100% focus every single day.

2/ Set your working hours - If you went into an office every day you would work the hours set by the business. Home working is exactly the same. Now, i'm not saying you can't work longer hours, or even shorter hours if you're organised and the work gets done, what I am saying is assign yourself your work hours and during those times make sure you are working. I don't mean putting a wash on, or cooking the tea or anything which is non-work related, I mean sitting down at your desk and doing your work.

3/ Find your space - I know home workers who are more than happy in the living room with their laptop, you know, on their lap. I know some who work on their bed. Most, though, work from a desk in a dedicated office. Whatever works for you but you must set your work space and your personal space. Personally I have an office which is where I go when it is time to switch off from being at home and switch on to being at work, It's a very short commute but it is still my work space and that is super important.

4/ Don't stay at home! - Sounds daft but getting out of the house during your working week is also really important. Go to meetings, get out to networking groups, meet like minded, fellow home workers for coffee and to bounce ideas around. Working from home can be lonely and it's important you interact with humans as well!

5/ Enjoy your space - Try and work from an area which inspires you. What that looks like will vary but take the time to make your work space somewhere you want to go to. You must be comfortable and happy in your space to allow you to be inspired.

6/ Take a break - If you were in an office you would, most likely, take a lunch break, Even if it is just ten minutes to grab a coffee or pop to a shop you would get away from your desk. There is a temptation when home working to stay at your desk all day. I recommend not. Take a proper lunch. Go for a walk, go in the garden, do some jobs, go in another room and have lunch. Just take some time out (make sure you set a limit so you don;t get carried away!) and get away from your desk so you are refreshed ready for more work/world domination

7/ Dress for you the job you want - When I first started working from home the novelty to be able to work in my onesie was overwhelming but I found it genuinely affected my concentration and ability to focus. Onesies mean sofa, and TV and downtime. They mean comfort. They don't mean focus and smash out some top quality work for your clients. You wouldn't go to a meeting in a onesie so make sure you dress for success and dress as you would if you were going into an office every day. You'll be surprised the difference it makes.

8/ Communicate with others - Make sure you don't spend your life just at a keyboard. Pick up the phone, use Skype/Facetime and talk to people. It makes your work day more varied and allows you to focus on other people which will help your general focus levels.

9/ Have a plan - Never start your day/week without a plan. Use a calendar and a list (I like paper but there are loads of project management apps you can use) and have your day and week mapped out. If you don't know how your week is going to pan out you cannot begin to have focus.

10/ Find your people - Knowing and talking to others in the same boat is really key for focus and support. The guy I mentioned who suggested ways to come up with blog ideas is another business owner who is a member of an online forum set up by a company I admire hugely Spaghetti Agency Jo and Todd set up a group online to let people ask questions and bounce ideas around, I find this support invaluable. In an office you can just 'run ideas past people' or have a quick brainstorm. Home working is often just you so finding like minded people you can chat to is really helpful for your focus and your overall sanity!

Being focused when you work from home can be tough but if you are determined, organised and hard working it can also be a piece of cake. Personally I get way more done at home without the distractions of an office and so can generally get more work into my day but everyone is different. 

Follow the tips above and you'll find home working a breeze but, if it's an area you struggle with, we might be able to help. 

For more about how a Virtual Assistant could help you and your business check out our Services

Visit www.theintelligentvacompany.co.uk and follow us on Twitter @intelligentvacoThanks for reading!