With year end on the horizon, it dawned on me that new business ideas often come from new year resolutions.
Common resolutions involve some form of a personal makeover, or making more time for family and friends or turning a hobby into a career. The good news is that all of these can lead to successful businesses. So, I thought I would write about four potentially lucrative businesses that I have had some experience of; eCommerce, Affiliate Marketing, Blogging and Freelancing.
A couple of points before we begin. Shamelessly I have chosen these opportunities because they depend on having a website built, which is a significant portion of my online business and the primary motivation for this blog. Also, the set-up costs of these businesses are low. Let's look at them in no particular order.
Selling your products online has become the default way of generating extra income. In the early days of the internet, this meant physical products or real-world services and the growth of eBay. However, today the software available through web building platforms is so sophisticated that digital products have started to come into their own. Music, photographs, videos and ebooks are just a few of the digital items easily made available for a massive marketplace. For an example of an online store we have built, click here.
Affiliate marketing is selling other peoples products and getting a commission. For the most part, the commissions are small, and this type of business needs a consistent approach, but if done well, the income can be significant. Just keep in mind that it is a slow-burn business that will take time to build and show results.
Successful affiliate marketers begin by doing comprehensive research and selecting products and merchants wisely. This research should start with looking for 'Affiliate Programs'. Affiliate programs can be in-house and controlled by the merchant or a network with lots of products from which to choose. Both provide all of the affiliate links required and the tracking software needed to calculate and pay out any commissions generated.
You can use affiliate marketing to promote general products that you do not know of, products that you have used or understand, and products directly related to your area of expertise. Whatever the case, the content used to promote these is different. At one end of the scale, you are simply announcing that a product exists. At the other end, you become an advocate for a product you are confident in recommending. In my opinion, it is unwise to recommend products and services that you are not conversant with because promoting sub-standard products will almost certainly damage your reputation and future sales.
A simple search like 'where can i get affiliate links' will produce millions of websites that will give you all the help you could ever want. As ever, be careful and do your due diligence.
As you are here reading this, it is safe to assume you know the power of blogging. Most bloggers aim to become their own boss and benefit from the freedom of being in charge. But freedom in business always comes at a price. Bloggers MUST constantly create new content, be looking for ways to drive traffic to their blog and finding ways to monetise their activity. Earning money from blogging can come from building a subscriber list, including affiliate links in your content and attracting sponsors and advertisers to support what you are doing. Again this is a long-haul approach to income generation that needs dedication and hard work. I have to say that because I don't look to mass-market what I do, I only focus on creating content as an example of what can be done on the websites we develop. People willing to become the 'face' of their blog and work at it as a business have a much better chance of making a living out of it than I do.
The recent shift to working from home and the rise in online meetings has been a real boost for freelancers. I have lost count of how many online coaching sessions I have run over the last two years without leaving my home. Services that were once exclusively face-to-face activities are now routinely done online. A therapist friend of mine tells me that their online sessions have gone so well that they have no intention of reverting to the 'old ways.
Freelancing lends itself to copywriting, programming, voice-over work, video creation, general consulting, group coaching and the sort of web development work we do here at JIM LTD.
As with all small businesses, the trick is to get work. Start with a simple search like 'get work as a freelancer, and you will find an endless stream of general help and some specific information about online marketplaces like Fiverr and Upwork. This kind of service offers freelancers the chance to advertise their skills.
All of these channels have one thing in common the need for an optimised website and search engine friendly web pages. For help with this, you can look around this site or email us directly.
In today's digital world, it's essential to take your 'personal brand' seriously. It's common for a small business to rely heavily on the founder's expertise, and your website is a critical stockpile of information for people looking to find out more about you and what you have to offer. That being the case, if you want potential customers to take you and your business seriously, you should think about making your personal branding a priority. Here are some thoughts on defining your personal brand and using it to market yourself and boost your business.
Let's start with the Importance of Personal Branding. Your brand helps you to:
The message so far is to start by defining your own personal brand. But how do we go about this seemingly simple task? Hopefully, these tips will help you:
Having clarified your Personal Brand, you now have to get it out into the world where it can do the most good. This means some marketing is inevitable. Consider these free strategies:
In conclusion, taking charge of your personal brand will help you achieve more success for your business and act as a guide when faced with hard decisions and choices.
Hiring a website designer or developer can be a daunting and expensive first step for a small business owner. Next to letting us help, going down the DIY route can be a great start and save a lot of money. BUT it needs careful attention and planning.
Here are some pointers for fledgling web developers.
Start off by choosing a 'platform'.
A web platform combines lots of different tools to help people build fully functional website capable of delivering sophisticated services like an online shop.
Today there are lots of platforms to choose from. Although they are similar in what they have to offer each of them serve slightly different needs and are all worth researching before making a final choice. For now, my platform of choice is Weebly. Weebly is known for its user-friendly interface and modern website design templates. Weebly websites are built through a drag and drop system that can produce simple sites quickly. The great thing is that with some extra effort, the Weebly builder can also deliver a level of sophistication to satisfy the needs of most small businesses.
Next up is to start creating your website.
List the pages you’ll want on your website. Websites can grow from a single page that works as a sales page or online business-card, to a standard size 5-page website, to literally any number of pages you could ever want. Interestingly having chosen the platform it's not the number of pages that's problematic, it's the content, ease of navigation and internal linking that becomes important. Whatever the final site looks like you probably want to start with these basic pages.
Choose a template or theme.
Commonly modern websites (coded or otherwise) start with a theme or template. Just like a PowerPoint or Pages presentation a template gives a starting point from which to build. How much you then 'tweak' the template is a mix of your technical ability and available time. The good news is that many templates do the job straight out-of-the-box.
Keep your branding foremost in your mind.
The aim of every business is to make their brand recognisable. Website colours, logo and fonts should be used across the site and match your physical paraphernalia.
Start creating content.
No matter how visual the website content, in this instance, means words. The words you use will have a major impact on 'visitor experience' and their interaction with your brand. Here are some things to keep in mind when writing your website 'copy'.
Source legitimate high-quality images.
Blending company photos with stock photography is a good way to go. Also pay attention to sizing and relevance. Standard sized images depicting you, your company and services will reinforce your status as a valid and trustworthy supplier.
Test your website across browsers and devices.
An optimised and responsive website has become the starting point for all websites. As soon as you can, take a look at your site from as many different devices and browsers as you can.
Getting your company online to attract people to your business is important and it is something we can help with at any level, even if you choose the DIY route. Please don't hesitate to contact us if you have any questions related to this or any other post.
Home-based businesses are a natural progression from the sort of 'side hustles' that have captured the imaginations of millions of people around the world who decided they want more from life. Some people have traditional second jobs, many have skills, interests and hobbies that they are keen to derive an income from.
Running a business isn't for everyone, but most people at some point in their life have thought about what it would be like to ditch their boss. In todays digital world everyone can have the best of both worlds by running the business alongside their regular job. For many, one of the first steps on this journey is setting up a website. A website is a fast low-cost way of offering services to the world but, like everything else in business, it needs careful planning and consideration. Because of this, before chatting to someone like me, I advise all prospective business owners to pause and take a look at the whole thing from the beginning.
Because you are still reading I will assume you are interested in the whole idea of being your own boss. The biggest challenge in running your own successful business is not in the actual running of it. The struggle is in choosing what kind of business to run. In many instances this is about deciding how to deliver your knowledge and expertise. Creating physical merchandise, authoring digital products, becoming a consultant or trainer, freelancer, blogger, the list is endless.
The important thing is that you start by deciding the following.
From this beginning here are some of the more important aspects of any business that need to be dealt with early to maximise your chances of creating a profitable business.
Some closing points.
Finally consider letting me help you with your website and your business. I'm proud of the fact that it's not just your online presence that I can help with.
One of the reasons I talk a lot about website content is the effect it can have on making your website attractive to the major search engines. The problem is that content creation takes a lot of time, a big chunk of perseverance and a whole lot of discipline. With this in mind I thought about alternatives for those, for whatever reason, don't want to go down the content route.
There is no easy or 100% foolproof method for anything regarding SEO but here are 8 things you can try. They will help generally but are especially suited for getting high local search engine rankings.
Marketing a business can be expensive. Traditional advertising, especially print advertising, can burn through even the biggest of marketing budgets. It can also be difficult to work out the actual return on investment (ROI). Because of this many small businesses rely on word of mouth (WOM) to promote their businesses. It's an accepted business principle that people trust a personal recommendation far more than any advert. Whilst WOM can be effective, it has one major drawback; it's a slow-burn strategy that will take time to build a customer base. Today online marketing offers a viable alternative.
One main advantage of online marketing is that it can supercharge WOM marketing to a point where, with good planning and execution, it can deliver quick, cheap and impressive results.
Consider the following 6 benefits of using online marketing to grow your business.
I think the main message is that the internet is a powerful tool that offers almost endless opportunities for your business. With online marketing, you can build an audience, engage with your potential customers, make more sales, and enjoy greater profits. All you have to do is plan before you act and get advice when you need it.
Following on from the PLR post I want to talk a little bit about why I think Blogs are still an important part of a modern website.
No matter what kind of business you run your website probably needs a blog. In contrast to your home page, product pages, and other information pages a blog gives you a place where you can post new content to promote some kind of interaction with your visitors.
Blogs also bring 3 direct benefits.
The only real downside to having a blog is that you have to post regularly, and this takes time and effort. However, if you approach it strategically, you can make blogging much easier. Here are some points to help.
What should you write about on your blog?
The goal of your blog content should be to offer help and solutions for the problems and issues your audience faces. JIM Ltd main audience is small business owners looking for cost effective and professional looking websites. Because of this our blog tends to stay with topics that small businesses owners may need help with. The point is that any blog, in any market, should try to offer tips and advice specific to their market. Being helpful with no strings attached can help you build strong relationships with your audience. The medium to long term the aim is to make your website a 'go-to' source of information in your niche and this (hopefully) will result in increased sales.
Where to Get Ideas for Your Blog?
Writing is just one part of the process. In order to blog regularly, you need a steady stream of good ideas for your content. Start by creating a customer profile. Include demographic information so you can get to know your audience. Focus on problems they face and questions they will have. Using this profile as a starting point you can start collecting ideas for content that will appeal directly to your customers. Create an idea file that you can add to as you brainstorm and refer back to when you are ready to start writing. It might be worth writing out these questions as prompts.
Find information and sources?
Since you will need to gather more ideas as you go along, you will need to locate a few good places to search for ideas to add to your writing list. Traditionally social question and answer sites like Quora have been great for finding ideas. Social media, online forums, blog comments, and other blogs have also been useful to see what people are talking about. Once you find useful sources don't forget to bookmark them so you can refer to them when you are looking for inspiration.
One reasonably new way to get suggestions or your writing is to use Google to find out what people need help with. For example; type in the search term "how to build a website" and Google will serve up the normal results. Then scroll down a bit and you will find a section entitled 'People also ask'. Here you will find a list of actual questions being asked by real people searching for information. This gives you a great starting point for your writing and a good idea of what your blog titles should be. One interesting point; as you drop down any of these additional questions, the list below grows offering more and more ideas.
Whilst great writing is probably beyond most of us, writing a decent blog is well within the capabilities of all of us. Here are some general writing tips.
There is one common piece of advice that I almost always ignore. It is said that every blog post should include at least one image. The images are said to make the blog more visually appealing. I agree with the principle but, for me, it just means extra work that would slow things down too much. I take the view that writing something is the most important thing and nothing should detract from that.
To finish I would like to emphasise one thing. As much as I try to be conversational, avoid spelling mistakes and poor grammar, I see these things as secondary to the writing and the need to communicate with my customers truthfully. I take the view that the fear of making trivial mistakes shouldn't stop me from trying to do the best I can.
A short while ago I made it clear that one of these posts was inspired by a Private Label Rights article. I wanted to make the point that the article wasn't 100% original because it was the first time I had used this kind of help on this blog. As I said at the time the piece was comprehensively rewritten and enhanced, but nonetheless it started life as a piece of high-quality PLR material. This is a follow-up to my original post an my intention is to show how I am beginning to use PLR and to give some suggestions on how PLR may be helpful to you.
I thought I would start by giving you my understanding of what PLR actually is. PLR is 'work' sold (by the original creator) under a license that gives away most, or in some instances all, of the intellectual property rights to that work. One of the major 'rights' often granted is the right of the purchaser to present the work as their own. Because of this PLR is sometimes referred to as white label content. PLR materials come in many different forms, ebooks, articles, graphics and even videos are offered. PLR material can be for general reading or specific topics. A word of warning; PLR materials always come with their own specific rights. These rights are the rules governing what can and can't be done with PLR material. These rights are important and must be understood and adhered to.
Now let's take a closer look at what this all means to you. I am starting to believe that enhancing good quality PLR is an excellent way to keep in touch with your customers and an easy way to keep your website fresh, updated and relevant. ALSO I now realise that my using 'Stock Images' amounts to the same thing, and I would never try to keep my websites 100% updated with my own photographs. The time needed to shoot, edit and publish professional grade images, would take far too long and slow down everything else that has to be done. I am now applying that logic to PLR based content for all of my businesses.
NOTE: Everything that follows is based on one fundamental. I always revise the language used in the PLR. I call this changing the 'voice' of the article. It's important to me that anything that I publish is identifiable as coming from me and my real world experiences.
For now I can report that PLR saves me an amazing amount of time in 3 main ways.
Some random thoughts about using PLR.
To sum things up. Well written PLR provides a solid foundation for content creators to build on. It allows the editor to add their own voice, whilst eliminating the time wasted in trying to think of things to write about. In turn all of this makes it more likely that you will keep your deadlines. This is important because it doesn't really matter how often you write, post or publish your thoughts as long as you do it regularly.
(Ironically this post is not based on any PLR content).
Small business are great in the sense of the amount of freedom they bring and their agility when it comes to changing direction or seizing on new opportunities. One of the downsides is that it's common in small businesses to find everyone, from the owner down, having to take on more than one responsibility (I always smile when I talk to friends in big web development firms when they talk about the design department, the design, department, back-end developers, client managers and of sales).
One of the biggest challenges for a every small business owner is managing their time efficiently. By efficiently I probably mean productively! Because confusing being busy with being productive is a real business problem here are some ideas to keep your activity productive and profitable.
Keep track of what you are doing.
If you are to have any chance of working efficiently you need to know exactly how you are using your time. Doing a 'time-audit' is a great way for you to understand your work-flow practices now and to help you plan for the future. A time-audit can be as simple or as complicated as you like and there is a lot of help online to help you with the structure. I use a simple three step process.
Understand the importance of routine.
I always use my teaching days as the perfect example of routine and time-tabling. I would arrive at work at a set time and then a series of bells directed me and the children for the rest of the day. At any moment in the working day I would know what I was supposed to do, where I was supposed to do it and how long it was supposed to take. The only latitude was what I chose to focus on during each lesson. Even then in the early days this meant working to a tightly scripted lesson plan. The whole thing reminds me of Russian dolls in the sense that the the school year provided one skeleton, the daily timetable provided another and the lesson plan provided another. Now just take a moment to compare that with the freedom and flexibility of a small business. The trick is not to let the freedom beat you.
One of the biggest problems I find with people working in small businesses, especially with owners and bosses is the temptation to be 'on-call' 24/7. They never turn off. This list not sustainable for the individual or the business. Breaks must be included in any timetable. Remember the Russian doll principle? Define a working day, define social time, take a long break as in a holiday, take regular medium daily breaks as lunch, and micro breaks to clear the mind and refocus (making a cup of coffee does it for me).
Work very rarely comes in unbroken blocks. Often we find ourselves with 10-15 minutes to fill. I tend to overcome this by dividing my 'to-do-list' into three distinct clusters. Firstly there is the work of the day that has to be done. Secondly there is the ongoing 'housekeeping' that never ends and finally there is the bits-and-pieces that in themselves are so trivial that they never seem to get done. A recent example of that for me was a pile of receipts that had to be sorted. A 10 minute chore that normally gets done only when the bookkeeper shouts.
Accept that productive multi-tasking is a myth.
Focus on one thing at a time. That's not to say that you can't work on more than one thing, just don't do it simultaneously. These days I work on something exclusively until my concentration starts to fade at which point, I finish off at a place that will make it easy for me to pick it up later. Then I turn my attention to something else. I really do find that 'a change is as good as a rest'.
Consider using management software and apps.
The digital tools available to day have come too late for me. I am still in the mindset of managing my time with handwritten notes on my tablet and alarms on my phone. But it's not lost on me that there are many amazing tools that can help you structure your life. Apps like 'Toggl' and 'Rescue Time' seem to be highly thought of, but I have no first hand experience of either.
Time management has always been one of the biggest challenges people face. It's just harder now in the 24/7 technological world we live in. The great news is that it only takes a small shift in focus to bring big rewards in terms of productivity.
Search engines, social media, podcasts, vlogs and video have made reaching prospective customers easier than ever before. The sky's the limit, every company has access to a truly global marketplace.
One of the best (and cost effective) ways to reach that market is through online content. Quality content published online through your website and social media platforms can build your company’s brand, raise awareness of your products and services, and increase sales.
By reaching communities through content, your business can create loyal brand advocates who will not only purchase your products for years to come they will help you harness the power of word-of-mouth recommendations. Every consumer of your products have access to a network of family friends and their own social media followers. What they see, like and learn from your content could give your organisation a huge community reach.
Here are 9 tips for creating and using using content.
1. Free is still the greatest value you can offer your website visitors. That's not to say you have to give away products it's just to suggest that helping potential customers deal with common issues they face has a value all of it's own. The easiest and most cost effective way of doing this is information published online. In my coaching sessions I use the example of a young persons first car and the importance of oil and oil pressure. As a mechanic I would be happy to explain, for free, what oil is, how the internal combustion engine works and what happens if you run the engine without the oil. I also might feel okay about recommending an oil, giving instructions on how top-up, change and check the oil. But; if and when someone wanted me to actually change the oil I would then charge for my time and expertise. In fact one of the best things about creating great online content is that at the end of it all you can legitimately ask for the persons custom. Placing a 'call-to-action' on all of your content is something you should consider.
2. Really good content often comes in the form of a short-story. Please pay special attention to the word 'short'. Unless you are a very gifted writer longer stories can be very difficult to construct and the chances of going off-point are huge. Keep in mind that a short story can be as simple as personalising some normal text. For example the phrase "In my coaching sessions..." used in the last paragraph, turned a couple of sentences about engine oil into a very short story.
3. When creating content it's worth making sure that it achieves three things. Firstly it should increase awareness of you or your business or what you have to offer. Secondly it should promote your expertise and thirdly it should ask the 'prospect' to do something. Buy a product, start a free trial, sign up for a newsletter, download a free gift etc. I must admit that these days I often fall-down on all three of these. As my goals shift and my responsibilities diminish I am much more focussed on just trying to be helpful and seeing where the whole thing leads.
4. Content is generally delivered in three main ways. As an 'expert' you tell people some facts that are not up for debate. You create an environment for a specific discussion or you give an informed opinion on something. Fortunately today’s social media supports all of these. Search engines deliver knowledge direct from the internet, chat based services create interactive viral-events, and blogs like this one are perfect for delivering opinions and analysis based reports. The trick is to create work that fits each outlet specifically. This can be easily done by repurposing all the content you create. To do this start with a 'long-form' work like this post and then edit it down to fit the other services.
5. It's worth remembering that great content is good at getting people to your website and when they find you they are more likely to come back. This 'browsing' activity means that they are seriously considering becoming a customer. This in-turn means that you can mix-things-up by creating content that informs, entertains and directly promotes what you offer.
6. Good, bad or indifferent it's important to have a strategy. Any strategy is better than no strategy. A strategy is like a map and you will be lost without one. I'm trying to make two points in one here. With all content repetition is good. The same thing said in different ways is a proven way to drive a message home. It's also very important that you have short, medium and long term plans. Think about most of the adverts you are confronted with in the real world. They always come in campaigns, they mostly come in a mix of formats and they always have a concise message. I was told a long time ago to look at what they big companies do because they have paid for the research you can't afford.
7. Make it clear what you stand for now and what your vision for the future is. For example I try hard in the JIMLTD website to talk about helping people keep control of their website without needing a huge investment in time, effort and money. I also try to make it clear that going forward I am always on-hand to help with more than just keeping everything online.
8. Clearly differentiate yourself from your competitors. Again the easiest example is how JIMLTD is positioned. I know from close partners that high quality bespoke web development starts north of £12K plus ongoing costs. I also know that this level of sophistication comes with a perceived loss of control. Simple updates are often not simple and often come at a price. Compare that with our pricing and you will understand the difference.
9. Have a clear brand and style. This is a huge and mostly subjective topic. It's one that I have a simple view of. I key everything off of the logo and I make the logo as simple as possible. I prefer single colour black or white logos because they stand out on most backgrounds, they are simple to print in-house on letterheads and stationary and they are cheaper to reproduce when we need to go to eternal printers.
As a conclusion and in the interests of full-disclosure, this post was inspired by a Private Label Rights article. I have (comprehensively) rewritten and enhanced it, but nonetheless it started life as a piece of high-quality PLR material. I mention this because I have, for many years, struggled with the idea of using the work of others to promote my services. Lately two things have changed that probably mean I will be using PLR more often. The first is that the quality of modern properly resourced PLR is truly amazing. Secondly as time goes on I simply don't have the time to think about, research, draft and edit 100% new and original content. Because of this taking inspiration, research and structure from professional writers has become a bit of a no-brainer. As I write I realise the whole PLR / freelance writer / content creation subject may be worth a dedicated post.
In the meantime if you would like to find out where I get my PLR from drop me an email.
Most of my working life I have operated as a freelance consultant and coach. I have experienced the pit-falls and advantages of the freelancer lifestyle, first hand.
Working as a freelancer means that you can work whenever you feel like it and in any way that suits you, it's one of the main advantages of being a freelancer. It is also a major pit-fall. Some people are simply defeated by the freedom. Without a regular schedule (or a boss), making sure work gets done can be challenging. Here's what I wished I had know when I started out.
Have a plan.
It's vital that you create a plan of work and stick to it. This helps you maintain a work life balance and makes sure you know what needs to be done each day. It also prevents you from working too much. This may be surprising, but some freelancers never 'switch-off' and this inevitably leads to burnout. When creating your plan remember to allow time for mundane things like paper work, filing, accounts and professional development.
Work with your natural rhythms.
We all have our own 'body-clock' and associated 'Circadian Rhythms'. It's the age old early birds vs night owls. The good news is that you can create a schedule that works for you. If you are most productive in the early morning, start work early, otherwise think about starting your workday after lunch. The combinations are endless. I'm an early riser so for most of my freelance life I have divided my workday into three sessions. 05.00 to 08.30, 09.30 to 12.00 and 19.00 to 22.00. This gives me lot's of free time and 9 hours of productive work every day of the week. Naturally when projects and deadlines require more hours I adjust, but I try hard not to let this happen especially as I march deeper into my 60's.
Tell everyone who needs to know.
Once you have your schedule set, inform the key people in your life. This is a big issue especially if (like me) you work from home. Letting colleagues and clients know your schedule and availability is important especially if international time zones are an issue. That said, I have found the biggest issue as a freelancer working from home is the people with whom you live. It's amazing how easily working hours can be eroded by well-meaning interruptions from family and friends. As silly as it may sound I would constantly tell those around me (especially the children) that when my door is closed they should imagine that I'm on a desert island with no means of communication.
Use your plan to monitor your working hours.
I always try to keep in mind that I work to live not the other way round. Any work plan you make should work for you not against you. This means that it's up to you to make sure your plan delivers results. Part of your plan should be to take some time to reflect on what you are doing. Within this there are three important questions. Are you getting things done? How are your energy levels generally? Do you have enough time and energy to support a healthy personal life? If the answer is no to any of these questions it's time for a reboot and a new plan.
Rest when you need to.
Flexibility is the biggest advantage of being a freelancer. Health, fitness, and personal relationships can come first but only if you allow for them. The perfect working day is an illusion. There are always unforeseen interruptions. Design your plan and timetable to accommodate them. The simplest example from my working practices is to always allow for time before and after a task. This has two advantages. Firstly it stops me from rushing from one thing to another. Secondly this 'buffer-time' builds up over the day and makes moving things around easier.
Make your rest time count.
Think and Grow Rich author Napoleon Hill reputedly talked about the importance of planning your work and then actually working the plan. The problem in our world of communication overload is that people don't prioritise down-time. If you plan to take a break do just that. Resist the urge to check emails and consider turning off your phone. If you need a business reason for this, recent research suggests that people who only check their emails at set times during the day work more efficiently and are less likely to lose focus compared to those that, insist on dealing with things in real-time.
To sign-off. Well planned freelancing should give you control over your work which in turn should help you be efficient, productive and maintain a sustainable work-life balance.
Continuing the theme of remote working. Working from home has become a regular part of life for many of us, especially if you run your own small business. There are many adjustments needed, but most changes are made easier if you have the right tools. Here is my take on what's needed for your home office.
A Good Computer with Reliable Internet.
The very basics are a good working computer and a reliable internet connection. Within this there are some variables. A desktop gives you a bigger screen and more raw computing power, but a laptop gives you the option of working on the go. Your regular household Wi-Fi is probably enough for remote working, but you should consider adding as much bandwidth as you can afford. I have chosen a laptop connected to an ultra wide monitor via a USB Hub hardwired to the fastest internet connection available.
Remote working requires some kind of communication tool beyond email to talk to your colleagues and clients. Email gets clunky and hard to manage. Messages pile up on threads. It's especially inconvenient when you have a team of people talking together. A chat platform like Slack or Skype is a much better option. You can talk throughout the day as if you were together at the office. I must admit for my purposes I find messaging from my iPhone and laptop is all I need. Mostly because I can't help thinking a stream of chat would disrupt my day too much.
Another new normal are online meetings. Zoom seems to have become synonymous with the video conferencing software used for virtual meetings. There are however other providers like Microsoft Teams that also you to see all participants and take advantage of other features like screen sharing. Paid or free versions these are must-have solutions that you will need to be comfortable using.
If you're collaborating on projects with other people, you'll need a project management program. If you are part of a bigger organisation you will be told what applications to use. For smaller businesses a freelancer approach may be all you need with collaboration tools like Trello. Again I have to say that I have never progressed farther than combining Evernote, Dropbox and what Microsoft calls 'co-authoring'. The basic message is that you need a secure way to share editable documents and timetables.
Cloud storage allows you to store files in the cloud rather than on a physical device. The advantage is that you can access these files anywhere. It also gives you more storage in addition to what your computer can handle. The simplest and most popular are Google Drive and Dropbox but be careful especially when deleting files. Syncing is great for remote access but it's not the solution for backing up or archiving of files.
Eventually there will be fully functioning cloud computing where the local device is just a terminal to access files stored in remote servers.
If you're going to be taking your work on the road, you may want to consider a stand-alone 'pocket' Wi-Fi device. This is a small device that gives you your own dedicated hotspot. It is a business alternative to using the hotspot capabilities of your mobile phone. It allows you to use Wi-Fi anywhere, you don't have to rely on unsecured public networks and you can control your costs.
Today there is a huge selection of tools and apps that help you stay organised. Working remotely without a boss or office structure can lead to distractions, poor time management which in turn can lead to missed deadlines etc. Tools like online calendars, automated to-do lists, and time trackers can help keep track of your business. Many of these tools come free and are easy to use but you must take the time to learn them, set them up and above all use them.
Today video calls are a fact-of-life for almost everyone working remotely. If you have found yourself constantly on video calls throughout the day you have probably gotten into a way of working that streamlines what can be a daunting process. If you are new to the whole thing video calls can be a bit awkward and difficult to get used to at first. Having delivered 100's of sessions over the last two years, I now have a process and a dedicated space, with external webcam, lights and microphone. Whatever your situation here are 8 tips to help you make your video calls as smooth, natural, and compelling as possible.
1. Check Your Internet Connection.
Before your call, make sure you have a strong internet connection. Where possible I always use a hard-wired connection. The 'freezing' that comes with a bad connection can be extremely distracting and even drop the call. I like to have my phone as a back-up, I quit my mail-server (email is a big drain on resources) and I ask my household to minimise their internet usage (just while I'm on the call). As a side-note, get the biggest connection package you can afford. A larger capacity will minimise these problems.
2. Pay Attention To How It All Looks.
Two big issues in presentation are how you look in the foreground and what's happening in the background. It's a good idea to dress for your video call as you would for a physical meeting. Wear whatever you would wear in the real world. This will help create a good impression and put you in the correct mindset for work. Experiment with the angle between you and the camera. Avoid extremes, too close or too far away are equally bad. Pay attention to your background. At a basic level this just means tidy up. Hanging clothes, kids toys or personal items are at best distracting at worst embarrassing.
3. Act Like You're In A Meeting.
During the meeting, keep in mind that PEOPLE CAN SEE YOU. They can see your facial expression and can tell whether you're listening or not. Active listening (nodding and smiling) can be more important on video calls than it is in person. Look like you are interested and engaged.
4. Lighting Is Important.
Before the call, check out your lighting. Turn on the camera and see how you look. The aim is not to appear too dark or too washed out. The first thing to do is to try out different lights to see what looks most natural. For a more professional look, avoid direct unfiltered lighting and try to light the area immediately behind you. Don't sit in front of a strong light source like a daylight window. Fortunately there is a lot of specific help to be found on the internet.
5. Punctuality Matters.
Just like in the real world, be on time. To avoid complacency I allocate at least 20 preparation time before every meeting and I always connect before the published meeting time. If you are running the meeting it's good practice to create an agenda and stick to any time limits. I try to start by summarising the reason for the meeting and how long the whole thing should take. I like to finish on time (let people to leave the meeting) but allow for anyone that wants to stay on to chat or ask additional questions.
6. Mute Audio As A Default.
Most importantly mute yourself when you're not talking. This minimises the impact of any background noise you have become accustomed to and avoids any "Honey I'm Home..." moments.
7. Video Is Not Your Friend.
A quick search on the internet will bring up some of the hilarious 'fails' where people simply forget they are on camera. On a more mundane level if you find yourself having the move around (or deal with an errant family member) turn the camera off.
8. Be Prepared For It All To Go Wrong.
There always seems to be problems technical or human or both. So always have a backup plan and tell people what it is, early. For example if it all fails have an alternative time slot or switch to audio only or record the meeting so that anyone having problems can catch-up later.
The good news is that video calling technology is getting better every day, it's consistent and easy to use. All it takes is a little practice.
The builder I have chosen to build customer websites cannot deliver 100% customisation. It would also struggle with sites that need 1000's of pages. It's not the market this type of builder looks to service. Most small businesses (including most of those I talk to) only need branding in the sense of site colours and logo. Their main concern is getting a professional looking website that doesn't break the bank or require payments for every single update needed.
To meet clients needs, as I see them, I have chosen what I consider to be the best solution in its class, but it occurred to me that it might be helpful to outline the pros and cons of online web building software generally. Before we get going I have to say that one of the great things is that after years of experience with this type of website development I have discovered there is nearly always an acceptable work-around for most limitations. The good news is that our clients don't have to waste time working out what they are.
When talking to small business owners, especially those just starting up, I often emphasise three core principles. Know where you are going, focus on what's important, understand the importance of good communication. I realise that these are just the tip of the business iceberg and for people who want to dive further into this huge subject this book is a great starting place.
I run a couple of small businesses and have a bit of a software addiction so I have tried out lots of software/apps but these are the ones that managed the test of time and sit up front in my 'dock'. I'm Mac based so naturally the apps are mostly MacOS but they mostly have their counterparts for other operating systems. Also my reason for choosing the apps may be helpful.
For most companies retaining customers is more efficient and cost effective than finding new ones. Communicating with existing customers will help spread your name, build your reputation and keep your customers. Today communication mostly means emails and electronic newsletters. With this in mind here are 11 tips for "keeping the customer satisfied".
One of the biggest challenges facing small businesses is finding new customers. I have found, as with most things, it's just hard work, perseverance and focus. The following points come from a checklist I use to keep me on track.
A story to finish. When thinking about customer services my mind always goes back to my once having visited a very 'posh' car showroom straight from my garden in my (clean) gardening clothes. The showroom was empty and the salesman completely ignored me. Only when I started to open a car door did he stir. Having roused himself he went straight to how "expensive" this model was and asked if he could he show me a "...more suitable alternative." (THIS PART OF THE STORY HAS BEEN CENSORED). Some weeks later, I was driving past the showroom and saw the salesman with someone I took to be his boss. I am ashamed to say, I couldn't resist pulling up next to them and asking how they liked my shiny new BMW.
A long time ago I was told two things about fraud theft and deception. Firstly for ordinary people to steal or deceive they must have a perceived Need, see an Opportunity, think that the Risk is low so they won't get caught and have Mitigated things by concocting an excuse that relieves them of any blame. Secondly everyone lies and steals at some level, it's controlling that level that counts.
The personal examples that stick in my mind came from a retail sales manager and a building contractor. The shopkeeper maintained that their workers needed to understand the difference between taking a loose grape from the bottom of a box and actually pulling a grape from an undamaged bunch. The builder took the view that if there are five bags of cement left over from a job and one goes missing it's an unfortunate fact of life. If two go missing you're being robbed. Leaving the philosophical arguments and any matters of trust to one side, I have found that, in most small businesses, they key to controlling the mis-use of company property is maximising education and minimising temptation.
The education side of things should focus on mindset. "Just this once..." isn't a valid excuse and the personal use of postage stamps, printing paper, writing pads, pens and paperclips is not some sort of open-ended perk, it's stealing! The message needs to be I trust you not to steal from the company, please don't let me down.
From a temptation standpoint I suggest using office supplies to set tone because it's easy to implement some low-level controls (controls suggests concern and vigilance). Think about a lock for the supply cabinet and asking people to sign for the supplies they are taking.
The underlying message needs to be that if the business sees taking a paperclip as dishonest what will they do if someone helps themselves to the petty-cash?
On a more formal basis every company should set out in writing, as part of it's employee contract, exactly what it's attitude to the theft and mis-use of company property is and how it will be handled.
All of this may seem heavy handed in small 'family' type organisations but for anything bigger 'shrinkage' can have a real impact on profits.
IR35 is anti-avoidance tax legislation designed to root out so called disguised employees*. This, as usual, can get complicated but my rudimentary understanding is that it's trying to stop people getting paid indirectly for their work. For example someone who gets paid through their own limited company when they should be paid direct, as an employee, from the client their de-facto employer. Basically any situation where money is diverted simply to avoid some or all of the tax liability.
As you probably know the whole thing has been widely discussed in the press what you may not know is the the government has provided some help by way of a 'Check employment status for tax' page at gov.uk. After some disclaimers the page sets you off on a tick box survey designed to clarify personal/organisational tax status.
If you hire workers, or hire out workers to others or are yourself a worker the form helps you make an informed determination as far as where the tax burden sits.
*Nothing in this post should be taken as tax/legal advice on which you can rely. It is for general information only and just represents my understanding of current tax legislation. If you are unsure of your position I strongly recommend that you take professional legal advice.
Hopefully this blog provide some insight into what we offer, provide inspiration for you to build the website you have always wanted and help with developing your business generally.
James Image Management Limited.
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