Guest blog from Charlotte Speak – Power of the Parent: ‘How to get organised and on top of your business admin’

Guest blog from Charlotte Speak – Power of the Parent: ‘How to get organised and on top of your business admin’

I’m thrilled to welcome Charlotte Speak from Power of the Parent to my blog this week. Charlotte helps mums return to work and have confidence in their career. Here, she shares her tips on how she gets organised and on top of her business admin:

My role means I’m always wearing different hats, including founder, CEO, sales director, HR manager, and IT department. I could go on but you probably get the picture! With all of these roles there’s a creative side and an admin side. Creativity is a strength of mine and I love any opportunity to get stuck in. Admin is something I can do and I’m relatively good at, but it doesn’t spark me in the same way. I like to be organised and have a plan, but I loose interest in lots of instructions, or things to fill in. I pay much more attention when someone talks to me about it.

In reality, it has the potential to cause me a heap of problems. The admin side of my business is a necessity, and my volume of work doesn’t justify anybody else helping me (yet..!). So, I’ve had to get tough with myself and I’ve recently made some decisions about the set up of my business to get my mindset whipped into shape.

Here are some tips that have helped me to keep on top on my business admin:-

1. Setting up as a Limited (LTD) company

I’ve happily been a sole trader for the last 12 months, as it felt comfortable, low risk and a safe way to test if I could make money doing what I love – coaching and supporting maternity returners (and their accompanying businesses).

I’d been toying with the idea of being a LTD, but the only reason I could articulate for wanting to make that change was because ‘it feels more professional’. I gave myself a hard time for that being the only reason, but it turns out that really is all it takes.

I spoke with a friend who gave me some straight down the line advice and mindset questions about what becoming a LTD was going to mean. She spoke about her relationship with her LTD business, and that it puts positive boundaries in and gets her to think decisions through in a different way. It’s exactly what I needed to hear. I have been putting things off because I don’t feel established enough and forgetting that when I’m courageous I feel good. It will automatically put me into a rhythm and routine with my financial admin. Accountability appointments go a long way!

It won’t be for everybody and one of the outcomes of me doing this is that I’ll be working with an accountant (so, spending!), but from what I’ve experienced so far, it’s going to be a brilliant investment in me and my business.

2. Working in chunks of time

Most of the time I work to the Pomodoro method of 25 minute chunks and accompanying breaks. I don’t have a really long attention span when I’m working solo, but once I’ve set that timer on my phone I’m heads down and cracking on. I set the alarm as a song I really like, so that means no shrill default tones for me!

3. Plan your day around your energy

I know when I’m really alive and productive, so I plan my day to use that time for the stuff I don’t really enjoy, or could put off. The times when I know I’m low in energy and likely to get distracted, I fill that with work that I love. I adore writing, but I’m rubbish between 2pm and about 3.30pm so I’m currently writing this in that slot! So far so good!.

4. Protect your family time

This is a struggle in the world we’re in and it’s hard to talk about without sounding preachy, but I’ll have to give it a go!

Family time will come in all shapes and sizes. Time with kids if you have them, time with your partner if you’re with somebody, opportunity to go visiting friends, and importantly time for you.

Self- care gets banded around a lot, which I think is a good thing as long as it doesn’t become wallpaper. Taking time away from your daily grind is important and keeps your resilience topped up.

The nature of being in a freelance type role is that you feel like you have to always be on incase you miss the project of a lifetime, but the reality is there is no ‘one’ project, and opportunities can come from nowhere and everywhere. There’s no way to predict, so you really have to live in the here and now. That will mean you have to have down time, burn out is the enemy!

I need to break up with my phone a bit at the moment, so I’ve turned that screen time alert thing on that comes with iPhones and I’m keeping a much more educated eye on my habits.

5. Thinking and planning time

There’s a lady called Nancy Kline who has a coaching and wellbeing business called ‘Time To Think’. She’s written articles and books all about this topic (Look her up, her story is ace). One of the biggest things I’ve taken away from her is that the quality of everything we do is based on the quality of thinking we do first. Without a bit of thinking, chaos can ensue. I mean, chaos can arrive anyway, but at least if you’re wading through with a rough plan you’ve got a bit of a fall back! It doesn’t have to be detailed but just mapping out the two or three things you need to achieve in a day can help you formulate a plan, and most importantly celebrate getting through the other side!

I see lots of people talk about lists, to-do books, etc (to be fair, I’m one of them), but they seem to get used as a tool to create anxiety as much as anything else. Changing your relationship with your to-do list or equivalent, is really important if you’re currently going down the habit of telling yourself off when you don’t get through it!

6. Keep it simple

I’m such a stationery lover. I’ve counted this week nine notebooks ready and waiting to use. I still have a paper diary, but my husband will refer to an online family calendar I set up (queue lots of transferring between the two, and that includes work appointments!).

The last couple of months I’ve simplified my methods, in that I use my paper diary for my to-do lists, a notebook for meeting notes or planning posts, and an online calendar for all appointments and outings, with no transferring to paper.

I’m still adjusting but it already feels so much better. You might read that I wonder why on earth I was being so inefficient, but honestly my levels of OCD when it came to planning and the materials I did it with, it’s been a long road to change!

*About Power of the Parent*

My name is Charlotte, and I coach and support maternity returners (and their accompanying businesses). Through strengths based coaching and workshops, we are positively challenging the experience of returning to work after parental leave. http://power-of-the-parent.com

Guest blog from Laura Parker – Shoreway Business Support: ‘The Best Free Tools to Boost Business Productivity’

Guest blog from Laura Parker – Shoreway Business Support: ‘The Best Free Tools to Boost Business Productivity’

I’m super pleased to welcome Laura Parker from Shoreway Business Support to my blog this week. Laura helps busy business owners with business support, social & digital marketing and content creation. Here, she has some fantastic tips on the best free apps and websites to help you to be super organised and boost your business productivity:

Like many of you, I started my own business to try and find that elusive balance between being a mum and contributing to the family income.  Trying to find this balance for us as a family means that I try to make my working day between 9 and 3. To run a business within these hours means one thing – I have to be super organised!

To help me with my ongoing quest for balance, I utilise a lot of free apps and websites, and I thought it might be useful for me to pull them together in one blog post for you. I hope you find at least one here that makes your day that little bit easier.

Canva

If there is one app I couldn’t live without:  This. Is. It.

Need a professional looking flyer?  Canva.  Need a social media graphic?  Canva. Need a swish and professional CV? Canva. You get the picture!  Canva allows you to create graphics in keeping with your brand identity, with a huge amount of free options of background/ text/ images, etc.

If you do one thing today, take a look at Canva!

Trello

Trello is perfect for organising work flow.  If you don’t already use Trello for your own business, clients or personal lists, then take a look.  I love it.  You create a ‘board’ per project, and then within that board you create cards (or lists) of workflows within that project.  Then, within that card/ workflow, you can then list all the activities you need to do. You can add due date, colour codes, attach images, assign tasks, add link to external pages and lots more.

Slack

The perfect option when there are more than two people discussing more than one topic.  Rather than endless emails going backward and forwards, Slack allows you to keep all the messages on a ‘board’.  You select which topic you would like to update the other users with, and hey presto! They will then get a notification that you have made an update.

Unfold

My absolute favourite Instagram app for my own account and those of my clients.  Unfold is all about gorgeous, easy on the eye Stories templates (and we all know how hot Stories are right now).  You get a couple of free options, and then pay (really low cost) if you want any of the additional paid for templates.  I love it and I think you will too!


LastPass

If you are continually forgetting passwords, take a look at LastPass – it is sooooo clever!  Once installed, it will remember all of your passwords in its ‘vault’.  It also allows you to share your passwords with others, without them actually seeing them.

FocusBooster

As someone who is obsessive about improving time management and finding different strategies to improve how I work, I love this app.  It is based on the Pomodoro method of working within your limited time rather than against it.  If you are looking for ways to improve your productivity, take a look.

Planoly

If you want to make the aesthetic of your Instagram page really stand out, Planoly is a great way of planning your grid so that you can see how the flow of posts looks before you actually share them.  You have the capability to schedule the posts, move them around and the best bit is that you can save different batches of hashtags to use for different types of posts.

I hope you have found these tips useful to boost your business productivity.

*About Shoreway Business Support*

My name is Laura and I run Shoreway Business Support. I work with busy business owners who aren’t ready to hire someone, but need to outsource chunks of their To-Do List in order to keep their sanity. I specialise in using my ‘Monica’ skills to get my clients organised by implementing processes. https://www.shorewaybusiness.co.uk

Guest Blog from Ruth Buckingham – Kandu Marketing: ‘6 Useful productivity and blogging tools for small business’

Guest Blog from Ruth Buckingham – Kandu Marketing: ‘6 Useful productivity and blogging tools for small business’

I’m really thrilled to welcome Ruth Buckingham from Kandu Marketing to my blog this week. Ruth offers jargon-free content marketing support for small business owners. Here, she has some brilliant tips to improve your productivity:

When budgets are tight and you are managing your marketing yourself, any tools that can help improve your productivity or increase engagement with your blog posts can be beneficial.

Below are the top 6 free tools that I am working with on a daily basis for different client needs. 

Productivity

  1. Toggl – Take your timesheets to the next level

As my business has started to grow I have moved on from a timesheet approach to tracking time that I spend on different activities and clients using Toggl.   Toggl is a simple to use, free time-tracker tool that also provides reports as and when needed.  

I can ensure that my precious part-time working hours are well-spent.  I also have a record of how much time various activities require on a regular basis.  This can help me when preparing quotes for customers so that I can be accurate in budgeting. 

  • Buffer – social scheduling covering LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+, Instagram and Facebook

I use this tool for my own accounts as well as my clients for scheduling social media posts. Prior to discovering Canva I also used to love the Pablo extension which has a range of free images which can be customised for my needs or you can upload your own and edit with logos, quotes etc. 

Once the posts have been published you can also go back and view analytics on engagement at a basic level.    By scheduling batches of social media messages in advance it allows us to be active on multiple platforms but still have time free to focus on core business activities.

A note on images – I always like to use my own but on the occasions I am sourcing images for client or for a specific image, another two great free picture resource sites are Pixabay and UnSplash.  Always credit the photographer if you can, even if it’s not required on these sites, I think it is good etiquette!

I also use Later for my Instagram scheduling.  I probably will combine them at some point but for now I’m happy to keep them separate as I do use the platforms differently and Later shows you a lovely graphical view of your posts to check that everything flows nicely.

Recently, Instagram updated its platform so it is now possible to auto-publish to your account, rather than get a notification on your smartphone to post.

Blogging tools

  1. Co-schedule headline analyser

If you are writing your own blogs or email campaigns you might find this one useful.  I love this tool, it really does what it says on the tin, by helping ensure the title of your blog will get more opens and ultimately engagement.  The teacher’s pet in me loves getting a score of over 70 and a smiley face! 

As an example, for this blog post I started out with the basic topic “B2B blogging and social media tools” which scored 44 points and used the headline analyser to refine it to “Useful social media tools for small business” which got a whopping 71 points!  On review I didn’t feel this accurately reflected the content of the blog so have compromised on the title above –  a score of 64 so not too bad!

A well-known plugin for WordPress, Yoast is great to help you ensure you have your Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) basics in place on your blog post and also to edit the post for readability.  I find this is a great last sense-check before posting a blog.  A “virtual” second set of eyes so to speak.

As a copy-writer I find it quite easy to come up with blog ideas for my clients, less so for myself!

However, you may feel a little stuck sometimes.  Perhaps further down your blogging journey and have already covered why you started your business and key trends in your industry.  This little generator can help spark your next great idea to think about what your customers might want to read about and what ties into your own usps

I hope you have found this round up of tools useful!  Most of the companies I have recommended also have great blogs of their own that you can follow for further marketing tips. 

*About Kandu Marketing*

My name is Ruth, I am a Freelance Marketing Consultant operating as Kandu Marketing.  I provide jargon-free B2B marketing support.  This usually starts with content strategy or copy-writing but also covers a range of other marketing activities. www.kandumarketing.co.uk

Guest Blog: Rachel Brown

Guest Blog: Rachel Brown

Yes, I’m an artist and I also love spreadsheets

Can you do something for me? Conjure up a picture of an artist in your mind…

… got one? I’ll bet that 9 out of 10 of you have pictured some flouncy type lounging on a couch looking forlorn with a half finished painting in the background and a glass of red in hand. There is a stereotype that artists are a bit, well… flakey. And that doing the ‘business’ side of things is difficult for them because they can’t pull themselves away from their art to get organised. I’m here to debunk that myth, and if there is living proof that artists can also be organised, it’s me.

I studied Fine Art at university. A lot of it involved painting pictures, spending hours in a dark room developing photos or writing ironic phrases on the walls of my studio space. But, as it was a course where we mainly worked to self-directed briefs, I also learnt important skills around self-discipline, managing my own time and prioritising workload. It didn’t surprise me that lots of people I knew from art school went on to be project coordinators and managers. I myself went on to coordinate programmes, events and marketing in charities for a decade after graduating. Now that I run my own graphic art business, I love the admin side as much as designing!

So, if you are a creative person and find it hard to get your head round the admin side of your business, here are a few tips from me to help you get on top of things:

  1. Make sure you allocate time each week for admin. I find keeping the whole of Monday morning free works as it get’s it done before you’ve even picked up your paintbrush (/graphics tablet/knitting needles/chosen creative weapon of choice). Don’t start designing and making until after you’ve ticked off some of the admin you know needs to be done.
  2. Find a way of working that works for you. If you can get on board with a spreadsheet or find an app that helps – great! But succumbing to technology isn’t the be all and end all of getting organised. I’ve tried so many different spreadsheets to plan my marketing contact, but at the end of the day they all get forgotten and a pencil and paper list is actually what works for me for that task. Try different things and go with what achieves results for you.
  3. Shift your mindset. I find it helps to re-frame how you think about the concept of ‘creativity’ and apply it to things other that artwork. Software developers write creative code, sales managers make creative pitches and administrators think of creative processes to manage offices more efficiently. Does that mean they’re an artist? No. But that doesn’t mean they lack the ability to CREATE. I love to think of a good colour coded budget spreadsheet as a creative task – could you apply this to the admin tasks you’ve got on your list?

Of course, if you’ve tried to get organised but are still struggling to keep on top of your admin, consider getting help from a VA. They can help on a regular basis or with one-off tasks, and sometimes a small investment getting support with tasks that you just can’t get your head round means that you can get on with other things that will help to drive your business forward.

Rachel Brown runs Brownlow Brown Designs, creating colourful cards and prints that brighten up your life. You can find her on Instagram @brownlowbrowndesigns and at www.brownlowbrowndesigns.com.