Posted on Leave a comment

Ready to outsource? How you can find the right people

Outsource by finding the right people.

Making the decision to outsource some of your business tasks is one thing. Finding someone you’d actually trust to do the work is quite another. If you’re looking for a full time employee you might be better off hiring someone to find suitable candidates. However, more and more businesses don’t want the hassle. It may even be that you only need someone for a couple of hours a week, or to work short term on a specific project. A freelancer with other clients is the ideal solution. But how do you find the right one?

Sole trader v Agency

Agencies or larger businesses are ideal if you’ve got a specific project or need help with a range of different things. There are agencies of all sizes, including some that are run by sole traders. The difference between an agency and one sole trader is that the agency will have built a team of people who can cover a range of different things and will manage them all for you.

Sole traders are great if you don’t need to outsource to lots of different people. For example, you might already have a designer who’s created your new website, but you need someone to write the copy. Managing two freelancers is relatively easy – it gets trickier if you need five or six different specialities.

Getting recommendations

When it comes to finding the right person, getting a recommendation from someone you trust is by far the best option.  You can get a personal recommendation based on their own experience so you can outsource with confidence. Of course, it’s worth bearing in mind that their needs might not be exactly the same as yours and their approach to work may be completely different.

Networking events have been invaluable for me in finding people to work with. My main memberships focus on relationship building so I’ve got to know a range of people and discovered who I get on with. Then when I need a particular service I’ve often already got someone in mind.

Personality is key

Whilst access to specialist skills is one of the main benefits of working with a freelancer, you’ll still need to consider whether their personality fits with yours. This not only makes the working relationship easier, it will get you better results. No matter what work you’re planning to outsource, communication is the key to getting it done well.

I’ve met and worked with all kinds of different business owners, but they all have one thing in common. I’ve found it easy to build a rapport with them. When I’m choosing service providers for my own business the only difference between two equally qualified people has often been that I like one better than the other.

Selection

Of course, there’s more to it than personality. It’s important to be upfront about what your budget is when you’re talking to people. This enables them to tell you whether you need more funds, to adjust your expectations. They might also be able to recommend someone else. It’s a waste of everyone’s time if a freelancer takes the time to prepare a quote only for you to find it’s double what you can afford.

Also, think about whether their working style is a good fit. You may simply need someone who gives you regular updates or uses resources that allow you to check progress. If you’re looking for coaching I’d also recommend looking at their whole approach. Some coaches help you to become more personally effective, others look at your whole business and deliver strategic operations to achieve growth. Which kind do you need?

If you’re ready to outsource your copywriting, get in touch and let’s have a chat. If you’re looking for a DIY approach, visit my online shop for resources that will help or sign up to my mailing list for monthly hints and tips as well as a copy of my free guide ‘Stop hiding your business! 5 ways to be seen online’ as a thank you.

Posted on Leave a comment

Networking: The business resource that keeps on giving

Networking - you are not alone

I’ve been thinking about the resources I use in my business a lot recently, trying to work out what’s working and what isn’t. I keep coming back to networking, mainly because business is often about who you know and partly because there are so many options. As I mentioned in this blog I’ve found that paid networking events have given me more solid relationships than free ones. But then I talk to other business owners and realise that not all networking is created equal. It got me wondering about the kind of networking I do and why it works for me.

Timing

There are so many networking event that you could feasibly spend all your time going to them, but you wouldn’t get much work done. The demands of family life rule out both breakfast and evening networking events for me which helps me narrow them down.

It means that I only go to daytime events, which has a massive impact on the kind of people I meet. They’re often senior employees of larger businesses, which usually means they have money to spend. (Yes, I’m totally capable of being mercenary.) I’ve also met people who’ve built up their side hustle or who threw themselves in at the deep end like me.

Connecting with people

Building a business is about creating relationships. Some of the people I’ve met networking have become customers, but others have become my unofficial ambassadors in their own networks.

My main networking group is women only and hugely supportive in lots of different ways. There’s always a listening ear and great advice. While approaches differ between business owners and employees, there’s still one common thread. We all promote each other, even though that’s not a requirement of membership. My network has widened because we mention each other on social media and attend each other’s events.

Follow up

My favourite networking groups have become my favourites because they make it easy to build relationships. I’ve no problem with making the time to follow up with new contacts individually, but it’s easy for your email (or theirs) to get lost in the midst of a heaving inbox.

While social media can be equally busy, the memberships with Facebook groups have brought more lasting relationships. Other members ask questions or share their content and the hive mind gets to work. People don’t just learn what you’re about in a chat over lunch, they see reminders all the time.

Other networking groups

I often turn down events because they don’t fit with my schedule or my budget. But I’ve also said no without really understanding why. I look at some of the people I’ve met over the years and marvel at the connections they have and the events they’re invited to. Often the only difference between us is that they’ve been in business for longer and have more contacts.

Yet sometimes I think I hold myself back through fear. What if they’re just better than me? Maybe they’re ‘proper’ business owners and I’m just someone who’s going to be found out one day? I think it’s something I need to address.

If there’s one thing I want you to take away from this, it’s to look at the events you’re going to (or not going to). Are they the right ones for you? Is avoiding some holding you back? The reason I tell you this story is not because I have a networking event to sell (I don’t), but because I hope it’ll help. It’s also because being honest and sharing my story has helped me to build my business and meet some amazing people along the way.

If you want some help sharing your story in the right way, just get in touch.

Posted on Leave a comment

Where do you need to spend money in your business?

Spend money in your business - image shows woman at laptop with credit card.
Image by Andrea Piacquadio via Pexels.com

Let’s face it, when you’re a brand new start up it’s unlikely that you’ll be rolling in spare cash. Unless you’ve got a trust fund or have managed to attract a massive investment, there are going to be areas where you need to economise.  That doesn’t mean cutting corners. There are lots of free resources that you can use to build your business (I wrote about some of them here) and they can be amazing. Even if you’ve been in business for years prioritising your spending is hugely important. But if you’ve just started your business and are taking a DIY approach to things, there are still times when you need to spend money. Here’s what I’ve learned so far.

Coaching

Getting the right coaching has transformed my business. It’s helped me to set goals and learn what’s getting in the way of me reaching them. (Sometimes it’s my own brain.) It’s something that I couldn’t do by myself, so it’s been worth the money. I’m not going to tell you what kind of coach to choose as what works for me could be completely irritating to you. You can find everything from spiritual guidance to coaches who’ll create your business plan for you and everything in between. My coach never tells me what I ‘should’ do (which is good because I’m deeply stubborn). She challenges me and asks great questions which let me uncover what’s actually going on.

Training

Generally speaking, when you spend money to learn a specific skill it’s because the person offering it has invested time and money in knowing their stuff. It also means that you can ask questions if you need to. YouTube tutorials are great for smaller stuff but they won’t give you feedback if you get stuck. There’s also the fact that you’re fishing around to find what you need. There’s no-one to tell you if you’ve missed something important.

Of course, there could be things that you need to learn but where you don’t have the budget for one to one training. Online training and books can give you well organised, useful information for a fraction of the cost.

Branding

I hesitated over including this. Branding is important for building your profile but a full branding package can cost you serious money. You may not have that to spare when you first start and I’m not convinced that it’s always necessary.

If you’ve got a clear idea about who your customer is and how you want to be presented the right designer can work with you to create a logo and images to get you started. You can always change things later. It’s also worth investing in a few good quality photos that are unique to you. I asked a student friend to do mine – I saved some money and she got new shots for her portfolio.

Networking

When you get together with other business owners you create relationships that help you in all kinds of ways. I’ve experienced a definite difference between free and paid events. It could be because people who’ve paid want to get the best out of their sessions. In some cases a paid membership means that you need to attend regularly to get the most from it so you build better relationships. Maybe everyone’s just in it for a decent lunch! All I can say is that the people I’ve met at paid events are the ones who’ve turned into friends and supporters along the way.

So, where do you spend money in your business? Let me know in the comments.

50 blog post ideas eBook

Resources

Need some blog writing training? Find out more about my 121 and small group sessions here.

My no-nonsense, stubbornness defying coach is Jo Lee at Life Atlas Coaching.

If you’re a woman in business check out the Love Ladies Business Group for networking throughout the Midlands and in London.

Posted on Leave a comment

My isolation silver linings

Isolation silver linings and smiles.

I’m delighted to have been challenged by the fabulous Steve at https://thediaryofdad.com/ to write about the positives that have come out of isolation. I have to confess, when all of this started I was panicking. As a business owner, the possibility of not being able to work for an extended period was scary. At least I don’t have employees to worry about. I’d convinced myself that I couldn’t possibly get anything done with the kids at home. Thankfully, there have been plenty of positives. Here are just a few.

I have an amazing business community

I’m used to spending time on my own, working at home while my sons are at school. I’m also an introvert so I thought that the hardest thing about isolation would actually be having the entire family under one roof, all of the time. It actually turns out that I miss talking to other adults, whether it’s at networking events or the school gate.

Thankfully, I’m part of an awesome small business community that quickly mobilised to take events online. It’s not quite the same as hugging your friends in person, but it’s great to keep in touch. Whilst social media isn’t always good for my mental health just now, spending time in the right places has been a real bonus.

Flexibility is key

One of our biggest isolation challenges has been the change in routine. It’s also created one of the biggest positives. My kids love routine, so we’ve created our own. School have sent suggested activities home but it’s up to us how we structure them. We’ve also introduced stuff that they wouldn’t learn at school, like how to do their own laundry, as well as new takes on fun activities. Who knew you could get IT, music appreciation and cookery into organising a kitchen disco?

I’m also thankful that we’ve created a balance when it comes to working at home. My husband and I are both self-employed, but while his workload is steady, mine fluctuates. With good communication and flexibility we’ve been able to settle into a pattern that works for both of us.

Work is still happening in isolation

The fact that my business is already online so can mostly carry on going (kids permitting) was a real silver lining. However, I had no idea whether my clients had any money to spend. Thankfully, some of them do. Some are using the enforced down time to get on with projects that they hadn’t had time for before. Others just need some help communicating with their customers without sounding like they’re trying to profit from a crisis.

The thing is, we’re all just trying to get through this as best we can. It’s been really heartening to see how many people are supporting their community, including other small business, when times are tough.

My kids are mostly great

There are days when I can’t face another conversation about Pokémon. Or Minecraft. But mostly I’m really glad that we’ve got the time to listen. I feel as if I’ve got to know them better. It’s also been great to discover that they’re actually pretty resilient. My youngest turned six in isolation. The fact that this year’s party was a cake and the extended family on FaceTime didn’t faze him at all.

I always knew I was pretty patient, but it goes further than I ever imagined. It has to when your children’s insecurity about the situation comes out two hours after bedtime when you just want to flop in front of the TV. Being able to take the time to administer hugs when they’re needed has been the biggest silver lining of all.

Thanks to Steve for the nomination. I’m nominating Rona Myatt to pick up the baton and talk about her isolation silver linings.

If you’d like to learn more about what I do (when I have time to do some work) or ways to improve your business marketing, you can sign up to my mailing list by completing the form below.

Posted on Leave a comment

How are you?

How are you social distancing?

I had a completely different blog post written for this week. Yet somehow I couldn’t bring myself to publish it. It felt a tiny bit irrelevant to tell another story when the world has turned upside down. So here I am. The only question running through my head is ‘how are you’? Not just for you, but for myself as well. The last time my eldest son went to his fun football session, I got a funny look from one of the dads because I coughed. I couldn’t bring myself to tell him it was his aftershave! Now, every time I cough I wonder if it’s the first sign. Trouble is, I am a cougher. My youngest boy is too. Blame the asthmatic ancestors whose legacy wasn’t the condition itself, but extra sensitive airways. The last couple of weeks have seen me in extra vigilant mode in case the usual coughs become unusual ones. I’ve also been conscious of the different ways that people have reacted to this. I’m not going to talk about the crowds who treated social distancing as a green flag to flock to their local beauty spots. It’s a waste of energy and I’m going to need all mine. What I will tell you about is what’s helped me and what definitely hasn’t.

The personal networks

I’m lucky to be in a brilliant range of business networks, but there are some beyond that too. The parents at the school gate and the local community associations are all a part of my network. It’s been heartening to see how many people have stepped up to help. There’s been co-operation that has helped quarantined families and vulnerable people to be fed and supported in other ways. There have been social media posts in my school groups giving ideas for things to do with the children. There’s also been a phenomenal level of whingeing. I know it helps some people, but the difference between that and the alternative is really striking.

Business support

Most of all, there’s been business support. The panic that your business won’t survive doesn’t last long when you’re in a community of amazing women who’ll help you to brainstorm ideas one minute and teach you how to implement them the next. They’ve also helped to alleviate the guilt. It’s more than working parent anxiety just now. It’s the feeling that you shouldn’t be promoting your business when other people are struggling. The truth is, you shouldn’t feel bad about offering something that will help people. There’s also nothing wrong with putting on your own oxygen mask first. If you can keep a roof over your head and food on the table you’re less likely to need a bail out and that’s better for everyone.

How’s your social media?

Life is being lived on social media more than usual at the moment. There’s been extra positivity because support groups are mobilising on Facebook. There have been the usual spats, but no more than usual. The thing that’s got to me, more than anything, are the people predicting what’s going to happen. I don’t mean the experts. I’m hugely grateful for the people who are providing proper data and explaining the psychology behind the guidelines. I mean the people fretting about stuff that hasn’t happened yet, if it ever does. It took me a long time to stop worrying about things I can’t control, which means I can’t deal with other people doing it. I appreciate that’s my foible but it’s made me much more careful about where I spend time. 

I hope you and your loved ones are OK. Saying ‘how are you?’ has taken on a whole new seriousness, hasn’t it? If you need anything, whether it’s practical support, a listening ear or absolutely anything else, please shout. I’m helping quite a few people with finding the right words to market their business at this strange and crazy time, so let me know if I can do that for you too.

In the meantime, take care and I’ll speak to you soon.

Posted on Leave a comment

You can find the time to blog (honest!)

Time zone clocks

OK, I know that’s a sweeping generalisation. There will be plenty of you who really can’t find the time. If adding another thing into your week means giving up sleep or spending time with anyone you care about, don’t do it. Maybe you don’t even want to blog, and that’s fine. That’s what I’m here for. Writing a business blog isn’t right for every business. There’ll be more on that in a future post, but if you’re a small or micro business a blog is still a great marketing tool for most businesses.

The problem, in most cases, is that you think you need to find masses of time all at once. You will need to sit down in front of a screen at some point, but that’s the most time consuming bit. With the right approach everything else can be fitted in around your other daily tasks and will even make the writing part easier. Here’s how I break everything down.

Preparation

Nothing kills inspiration faster than sitting down in front of a blank screen and wondering what to write about. Having your topic ready to go before you start is a major time saver and you can think of ideas while you’re doing other things. You can write answers to your frequently asked questions, share insights on your services and learn about your customers’ struggles at networking events.

After that, create a quick outline plan by breaking the topic down into smaller sections and giving each one a subheading. I often do this when I’m making my lunch. Then when I start writing there’s a guide ready to go.

Writing

I can’t lie, this is the most time consuming bit, but there are ways to make it easier. When you make your plan, if any key phrases spring to mind, write them down. Make voice notes if you like. Recording yourself can also work really well if you find it easier to talk through your topic. Even just talking to yourself could help you to get the words flowing. 

Once you start writing, keep going. Your blog will be better if it sounds like you and that will come more easily if you aren’t constantly worrying about your grammar. That’s what the next stage is for…

Editing

The editing stage is every writer’s best friend. My mantra is ‘you can edit a bad page but you can’t edit a blank one.’ When you’ve written your post, leave it for at least a day then go back with fresh eyes. Run it through a spelling and grammar checker if you like (or visit Grammarly.com). Then, read to see if it makes sense. The best time for this is when you’re (relatively) relaxed. If you’re not already in the habit of taking proper meal breaks or stopping for an afternoon cuppa, this is the perfect excuse.

If you’re feeling brave give your blog to a friend and ask them if it makes sense.

Time for the finishing touches

The finishing touches on your blog are actually a series of tiny tasks that become much more straightforward when you break them down. Finding a good header image, on page SEO and sharing to social media can all be done separately when you have a few minutes. I put an appointment in the diary to find images for future posts, but do what works for you.

It can be a bit of a shift but when you stop viewing a blog post as one solid chunk of work and think of it as a series of smaller tasks, it makes it much easier to work out where you can fit it into your working week.

This is a lightning run through the things that go into a good blog post. If you’d like a bit more detail, sign up to my mailing list for monthly hints and tips on blog writing and all manner of other business marketing stuff. You’ll also receive a copy of my free guide ‘Stop hiding your business’ as a thank you from me.

Posted on Leave a comment

Leaving your comfort zone

Comfort zone
Are you stuck in your comfort zone?

When you’re in business there’s a lot of talk about leaving your comfort zone as a tool for growth. I’ve realised that it’s a message that mostly resonates with women. A couple of weeks ago I shared the image below on my social media accounts and the response was greater than anything else I’ve shared this month. Then I realised that everyone who liked and commented, no matter which platform they saw it on, was a female business owner. It wouldn’t be the first time. It’s entirely possible that I’m living in a female centric bubble on social media, but it struck me that you don’t hear men talking about comfort zones. Maybe the ones who start businesses are just naturally confident and the rest get a normal job. Yet I meet loads of women who start up on their
own but lack the confidence to shout about what they do. I don’t say this as someone with all the answers because I struggle with it myself.

I’ve been trying to think of ways to get rid of the mind monkeys (thanks to Claire Mitchell at The Girls Mean Business for that phrase). Actually, since I’ve been watching Baby Chimp Rescue on BBC2 they’ve turned into cheeky chimps in my head. (Seriously, if you haven’t watched it, do. It cheers me up and makes me sob in equal measure.) Then I realised that I’ve already done something that lots of people wouldn’t do outside of a gap year adventure. When I was already a (supposedly) sensible solicitor I headed off to Argentina for a solo expedition. No organised tour, no nothing. Just a husband who’d gone to learn advanced skiing for six weeks and a self-planned itinerary. This is how I got the confidence.

Baby steps

When I told my colleagues that I was going to haul myself across Argentina with nothing for company but a good book (often the best kind of company) they looked at me as if I’d gone a bit mad. My friends and family, on the other hand, barely batted an eyelid. (Although the potential cost of international phone calls meant my mum finally learned to text.) This wasn’t the first time I’d travelled alone, although it was certainly the most dramatic. I had a habit of taking myself off to different cities to explore for the day and took a family history research trip to Edinburgh. By the time I landed in Buenos Aires I was ready. While big, dramatic leaps out of your comfort zone are sometimes necessary, it’s definitely worth getting warmed up first. 

Getting involved

The biggest shock of landing in a foreign country by myself was the fact that I was completely alone. It was scary and liberating at the same time. I could do whatever I wanted and didn’t have to negotiate with anyone else. Starting a business was much the same. The key (for me at least) to tackling both situations has been to get involved with something. In Argentina I booked the activities and got a table for one in the local restaurants. It’s amazing how many people talk to you when you’re by yourself. It’s the same in business when you find the right networking groups. I’ve built relationships with people that understand the life and my business (not to mention my head) is in a better place because of it.

Does all of this mean that I’ll never have to worry about leaving my comfort zone again? Of course not. Mind monkeys can strike even the most successful of us. It’s just reminded me that it is possible. If you’re reading this thinking that I’m braver than you, I’m not. I’ve probably just had more practice.

If starting a blog is outside your comfort zone, I’m here to help. My 5 day blogging kick start challenge starts on Monday and will help you go from a blank page to a finished blog. Sign up using the form below to join in.

Want more?

Claire Mitchell from The Girls Mean Business on squishing
your mind monkeys

Treat yourself to some real life baby chimps in Baby Chimp Rescue

Posted on Leave a comment

You need time off from your business at Christmas

Time off from your business at Christmas
Do you just need a lie in?

I know, when you run a business you’re never truly ‘off’.
Business related thoughts and ideas appear at the most random moments and if
you don’t write them down they’ll be gone forever. (Or is that just me?!) The
point is, that’s the reason you need time off. Random brilliant ideas rarely
appear when you’re sitting at your desk. They pop up on the school run or just
as you’re trying to go to sleep. There are, of course, plenty of reasons why
you need time off, especially at Christmas. Here are just a couple (plus some
ideas for helping you achieve it).

The life changing magic of taking time off

As reluctant as I am to use phrases like ‘out of the box
thinking’, that one is a useful shortcut. I embrace routine as a useful energy
saving tool. Routine means that you don’t waste brain space making decisions
about the fifty billion things that need to happen before you start work. The
only problem is that you can get stuck in the pattern and it takes a bit of effort
to pull out of it and look at your business with fresh eyes.

When you stop consciously thinking about work it somehow
gives new ideas room to drift in. You don’t even have to take a full scale
holiday for it to work.

Didn’t you used to have a life?

There’s no substitute for working hard if you want to
succeed in business, but that doesn’t mean working yourself into the ground and
never seeing your family. That applies all year round, not just at Christmas.

The benefit of taking a break at Christmas is that it allows
you to step off the world if you want to. Those days when no-one is working and
school’s closed mean you can do whatever feels good. Have a lie in (I know, I
have kids too), go on a day out or watch movies knowing that you don’t have to
be anywhere in particular. It’ll remind you why you started the business and
could even let your mind wander into some brilliant new ideas.

Taking time off – the practical bits

“But Kirsty”, I hear you cry “I can’t take a week off, what
about my customers?” If your customers know you’re a one person business and
begrudge you a holiday, you need better customers. If they’re contacting you on
Christmas Day expecting a response they need help. (Unless you offer a
Christmas Day emergency service, that is.)

There are a few business who genuinely need to be open over
Christmas. If yours isn’t one of them then you need to set some boundaries. Let
people know in advance when you’re closing for Christmas and when you’ll be
back. Put your out of office on – you can even make it funny if you want. Then
go.

Actually taking a break

Now, the hard bit. Switching off. There’s a lot of
discussion about self-care and wellness and it’s easy to offer a supposedly
simple solution. Personally, I love a hot bath but I know that many others
don’t. Sometimes the only thing that hits the spot for me is a long walk, it
depends on my mood. A lot of us feel that we must be productive. Even when we
take time off we have this urge to do something worthwhile.

I can’t tell you how to stop wanting to do something useful.
When I get a spare hour I’ve started asking myself what I actually feel like
doing. Sometimes the answer is ‘no idea’. Other times it might be something
that doesn’t seem like traditional self-care, but whenever I go with it I end
up feeling more relaxed. Let me know if you try it too.

Further reading

I’ve taken to listening to audiobooks in the last few months
– there’s something rather comforting about being read to. My latest is ‘C’est
La Vie’ by Fabrice Midal, which talks about his approach to meditation. Here’s
the link
if you’d like to have a listen.

If you’d like to start the New Year by making your marketing
less stressful, sign up to my mailing list for lots of useful hints and tips to
make your life easier. You’ll receive a copy of my free guide ‘Stop hiding your
business!’ as a thank you.