There are only so many hours in a day and there’s only so much you can charge for your products or services. Once your start-up hits these inherent ceilings, you’re at full capacity in terms of financial return. You’re probably near the end of your tether, too. But there is a way to expand your business beyond this point, without the responsibility of employing staff.
Gone is the need for an endless list of “Stuff I need to do” (aka everything). Instead, have two lists:
As a start-up, you’re probably wearing many hats: marketing guru, accounting wiz, rainmaker and IT pro. Each of these requires different skills and talents: nobody is brilliant at everything.
Write down what you’re best at. You will be far more productive, with better results, if you only do the stuff that interests you, the things you are best at, the jobs your skills are best suited to – in short, the reasons you started the business in the first place.
Deep down you probably know that while you love analysing customer feedback (List One) or coming up with new product ideas (ditto), you usually put off writing your blog or doing your accounts. Or maybe there is something you put off because you just don’t know how to do it (that new e-commerce part of the site maybe or the wireframes for your new mobile app). Those are the jobs that belong squarely in List Two.
This includes everything else. Whether it’s not the best use of your time or you don’t have the right expertise, be honest with yourself about what would be done better or more quickly by somebody else. As a business owner, knowing when to delegate work can be one of the most difficult decisions. Remember that your time is finite – and probably your most precious resource. Here are five suggestions for jobs you could hand to someone else and get some valuable hours back in the process.
Faffing around with fonts, colours, symbols and swooshes is a) fun and b) a gaping black hole of productivity. Twiddling with our logo or letterhead is what we do when we’re avoiding doing something more difficult and more useful. Better to browse designer’s portfolios to find a design pro who matches your requirements and let them get on with it.
Good businesses communicate – regularly. But when you’re short on time, generating engaging, fresh, on-brand, unique, SEO-rich content for that weekly blog, e-shot or customer newsletter can feel like a millstone round your neck. Hiring a freelance writer to create your copy is easy: just give them a few topics to work from and enough information to help them capture your voice. Bingo! A 500-word blog post. No more trying to be pithy and punchy in your kitchen at 2am.
If your website is your main customer-facing platform, you need web analytics to make sure it’s doing the best job possible. But it’s way too easy to get sucked in. Nicotine, alcohol, Candy Crush… compared to the addictive and hypnotic glow of the Google Analytics dashboard, they got nothing. Outsource it, read the top-line report and free yourself from this time-zapping peril. Similarly, buying and optimising keywords on Google, Bing and Yahoo has become a complicated science with ever-morphing algorithms. Get an SEO expert to keep an eye on your clicks and conversion rates for you.
Managing a social media campaign is a 24-hour, rapid-response activity, and as the leader of your business, you just don’t have the availability. By all means, check in on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn every now and then, but delegate the day-to-day campaign stuff to a freelancer who can dedicate himself or herself to making your business a social media success.
How many hours a week do you spend on basic admin tasks such as data entry, research, database management, transcribing, planning events or organising travel? It’s blatant misuse of your most valuable business resource (yes, that’s you!). You’ll find thousands of freelance virtual assistants online with a good broadband connection and a typing speed way faster than yours. Get one.
• Blog supplied by Hayley Conick, Country Manager for Elance UK & Ireland, which enables small businesses to find freelances.
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One of the biggest recent changes to recruitment has been the rise of the video interview. Enabled by lower cost, easy-to-use video conferencing software-based systems, an increasingly global job market and cuts in HR budgets have been key drivers. And with businesses facing pressure to speed up the recruitment process, a first or second interview can be conducted via video conference, played back and reviewed quickly and easily.
So with the traditional face-to-face interview being replaced by video, how can candidates and prospective employers better prepare themselves and what should both be aware of during a video interview?
First, a video interview features the same elements as an in-person interview, so the same rules of engagement, attention and acknowledgement must be observed. This means dressing to impress, looking alert, engaged and professional throughout.
Remember, 93% of communication is thought to be non-verbal, so don't forget to pay attention to body language. Positive body language includes nodding your head, smiling genuinely and leaning forward to show interest or understanding. A furrowed brow, frowning and leaning back can all be perceived negatively.
Also ensure that you have the proper hardware and test it before you start. A good webcam is essential to maintain eye contact without losing sight of the other person, and make sure you adjust your seat/computer to frame your face.
Use headphones too, because they are much better than speakerphones, which can amplify background noise, disturb and distract you from the conversation. Make sure you have a neutral backdrop, because a distracting or messy background may cause the other person to lose their attention. Proper lighting is important to make you look your best, and you also need to be aware of any reflective surfaces that can be distracting. Finally, be prepared. Just because it is remote, a video interview should be treated just like a face-to-face one.
Blog provided by video conferencing solutions provider Vidyo.
Every business owner wants their employees to be dedicated, hardworking and willing to go the extra mile by putting in extra hours when necessary. However, there is a balance to be struck between hard work and unhealthy, obsessive behaviour. So, has Britain become a nation of workaholics?
The stereotype of an overworked executive was once associated with American high-fliers, yet in recent years this poor work-life balance has made its way across the Atlantic.
Figures from the Trades Union Congress suggest that one in eight UK employees works more than 48 hours per week, while research from the BBC suggests that more than half (54%) of Britain's workforce regularly works through their lunch break.
People who work long and unsociable hours could be doing themselves serious harm. Indeed, studies have shown that working 11 hours a day compared to eight increases your chances of developing heart disease by 67%.
In Japan 'workaholism' is referred to as Karoshi ('death by overwork') and is the likely cause of some 1,000 deaths each year.
It is crucial that owners recognise the damage that a long-hours culture can have on a business and its people.
One American firm takes the idea of combating workaholism so seriously that its employees are punished for working more than 40 hours a week.
A less drastic approach is to implement time-management tricks that can help boost productivity and performance. Time wasted by office workers during meetings has been estimated to cost the UK economy about £26bn a year. Rather than sitting around a table, you could request that staff members stand for the duration. This helps to rapidly reduce meeting length, while ensuring the same ground is covered.
Some firms use video conferencing to keep in touch with key individuals. This provides a powerful way to communicate in real time, meaning work can happen anywhere and at any time. Something as simple as implementing a flexible working policy can help to combat workaholism. When handled correctly, flexible working can boost employee morale and motivation, while reducing absenteeism.
If a staff member suffers from ‘workaholism’, your first step should be to review their responsibilities and duties, to determine whether they're burdened with an excessive workload and identify any reasonable adjustments that can made to address the issue.
Under the Working Time Regulations employees aged 18 and over are limited to working 48 hours a week. Members of staff have the legal right to opt out, enabling an increase in their working hours, but this must be done in writing and on a voluntary basis.
Start-ups and small businesses have the upper hand when it comes to tackling overworking. Effectively monitoring and managing the issue helps to prevent a workaholic culture from developing.
Blog supplied by Helen Pedder, head of HR for ClearSky HR.
We all make mistakes – it’s inevitable. In fact, it’s desirable. Unless people are pushing themselves, innovating and taking risks, a business could stagnate. What’s more, an inevitable part of risk-taking is that mistakes will happen.
And while you may not want to create an environment where mistakes are feared, you need to address them. Fortunately, it need not be an excruciatingly painful process for you or the person who’s messed up.
If you are tempted to ignore mistakes or brush them under the carpet, you may find that your business suffers and people never improve or progress.
Instead, if you deal with the situation, your business will benefit from fewer mistakes. Fewer refunds will need to be issued, there will be fewer quality control issues, fewer customer and colleague complaints, and less time spent rectifying the same errors. Also, the employee will understand clearly how to avoid making similar mistakes in the future.
It’s important to identify what type of mistake has been made. Is it major or minor? While a spelling mistake in an important document may not be a sackable offence, wilfully neglecting an important client is pretty inexcusable.
Similarly, is this the first of its kind, or an oft-repeated action? No one is perfect and mistakes do happen, particularly when people are undertaking a task for the first time. This, though, is vastly different from someone who persists in making the same mistake over and over, despite being told about it and perhaps receiving training intended to help them get it right. Identifying the type of mistake you’re addressing will inform what you need to do about it.
If you have identified that the mistake needs addressing, before offering an opinion, suggestion or sanction, fully investigate with all necessary parties three things – what caused the mistake, who was responsible and what the impact was. There will be countless times you will be grateful that you did so. It’s amazing how often things aren’t quite as black and white as they first appear. By investigating the matter objectively and fairly you’ll be better placed to take the next step.
Once you’ve established the facts, it’s your turn to be clear with the employee. Describe what you understand to be the mistake, its cause and where the responsibility lies. The employee needs to confirm that his/her understanding matches yours (if not, go back to the previous ‘fact checking’ stage). Then you need to explore why they made the mistake and what can be done to prevent it happening again. You need a firm commitment from your employee that they will strive not to repeat the mistake.
You must be clear and not gloss over the impact of the mistake on your business, but this doesn’t mean you need to be unkind. Acknowledge that everyone makes mistakes and express your confidence and encouragement that the employee’s future performance will be better.
It’s easier to deal with this type of problem if you have an open and trusting relationship with your employee. Investing in good relationships with your team is something you should do all year round. Not only will that make these types of conversations easier, but it will also help identify likely mistakes before they happen.
Don’t be afraid of mistakes. They’re a common fact of life and one that, with a bit of thought, can be easily managed. What’s more, accept that making mistakes need not be a bad thing. After all, in the words of legendary US basketball player and coach John Wooden: “If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not doing anything”.
Blog supplied by Heather Foley of HR consultancy ETSplc.
With little or no daylight outside of work, it’s perhaps easy to understand why people’s morale descends into the abyss during winter.
As some employees suffer a bout of the winter blues, small businesses can breathe a sigh of relief when they begin to realise that very little budget is needed to boost staff morale.
In fact, contrary to popular beliefs, money isn’t the best motivator. Praise and flexibility are far more influential than bonuses and pay.
A high proportion of small businesses will suffer a drop in staff numbers this winter, whether that’s caused by a spike in sickness-related absences or an influx of last-minute holiday requests. Combine the two, and your other employees could be facing a crippling workload.
A watertight sickness absence policy and holiday request policy offer the best preventative measures to manage the risk of a limited workforce.
It’s also crucial not to forget those who are left behind, with recognition for their achievements helping to reinforce morale.
Adopting a flexible approach also helps to keep morale high. Take severe weather for example. Offering your employees the chance to work from home helps to reduce absences and prevent the business from grinding to a halt. In such an event, it’s crucial that you have a robust flexible working policy in place.
A dysfunctional team can have a devastating impact on productivity, which is why good communication within the workplace is vital.
Be sure to keep your employees up-to-date of any business news. However, do remember that this is a two-way street, as your employees should be able to approach you with any work-related issues.
A well-engaged workforce will ultimately deliver increased productivity and performance, therefore it’s crucial to recognise and meet the needs of your staff.
Remember that even the smallest gesture can make a big impact, such as enabling staff to leave early once targets have been met or even treating them to lunch.
At the end of the day, it’s up to you as the employer to motivate your workforce and prevent a dip in staff morale.
Blog supplied by Helen Pedder, head of HR for ClearSky HR.
For many reasons small and large businesses choose to outsource particular tasks or services to third parties and agencies. As outsourcing continues to evolve, so do the reasons for SMEs and bigger organisations to consider adopting those methods for the good of their business.
The primary reason for outsourcing and outsourcing immediately is to cut costs, because this is the main driver for many businesses that choose to outsource work. But let’s look beyond the pound signs and see some of the other popular reasons for outsourcing services in 2012 and beyond.
In demanding industries there are many instances where highly pressurised employees simply don’t have enough time to focus on core business functions that can drive long term growth.
Businesses need as many people as possible to be able to focus on the profit-driving areas of their organisation. By outsourcing certain tasks or services to third parties, companies can save valuable internal resource to devote towards moving the business forward.
Some businesses choose to outsource particular services or divisions of their business overseas to take advantage of greatly reduced corporate tax rates. Countries such as Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and closer to home, Ireland, all boast very low corporate tax fees that can significantly improve a company’s bottom line.
There may be an area of your business that would require significant in-house and external training to get employees up to speed. Subsequently, it may be more cost-efficient to simply outsource the entire service to a third party or agency. It is quite possible they will add greater value than you even anticipate due to the skills and expertise they possess. Why spend time and money learning new services and skills if you can employ a professional to do it for half the cost?
In some cases, businesses choose to outsource services or divisions of their organisation to make sure they appear constantly accessible and available. To create the impression of operating 24-hours without closing down it is possible to outsource to an overseas partner that can do important work overnight, while catching up on much-needed sleep!
Although reaching agreement with outsourcing contractors can be unsettling and protracted, outsourcing work carries significantly less contractual risk than employing a full-time member of staff. Contractual agreements can be created to offer protection for both parties, while removing any difficult human interaction that can occur when in-house employees are dismissed. Outsourcing firms can be held just as accountable for poor performance and poor quality of work as a full-time employee.
While outsourcing requirements will naturally differ from business to business, there is no getting away from the fact that outsourcing is becoming a key component to the day-to-day strategies of successful businesses.
Blog written by David Campbell of Pall Mall Estates, “one of the UK’s leading providers of affordable commercial space to rent”.
Teams are the building blocks of many new businesses and keeping your team working effectively will reap many benefits. So how can you help your team to get the most out of working together?
A good working atmosphere makes a huge difference to a team’s productivity. The key to the difference between high-performing and low-performing teams is the ratio of positive to negative comments. Interestingly, this doesn’t need to be balanced; it needs to be weighted in favour of positive comments, at least by a ratio of 3:1.
Forget weaknesses – play to strengths. This will reap greater benefit in terms of performance improvement. This is because when we are using our strengths work feels effortless, we are energised and confident, we are engaged and probably experience moments of flow. Feeling like this we are more able to be generous and patient with others, so the benefits flow onward.
Teams are often made up of people with different skills and areas of expertise that tend to see the world and the priorities for action within it differently. This can lead to a great awareness of difference, which can come to be seen as insurmountable. A productive way to overcome this is through sharing of personal stories about their moments of pride at work. In this way, they are expressing their values and sense of purpose in an engaging, passionate and easy-to-hear form. The listener will undoubtedly find that the story resonates with them, creating an emotional connection at the same time as they begin to see the person in a different light.
Groups can get stuck in repeating dynamic patterns. When this happens, listening declines, because everyone believes they’ve heard it all before, and so does the possibility of anything new happening. To break the patterns we need to ask questions that require people to think before they speak. This brings information into the common domain that hasn’t been heard before.
When teams suffer a crisis of motivation or morale it is often associated with a lack of hope. In ‘hopeless’ situations we need to engender hopefulness. Appreciative, positive questioning can help people imagine future scenarios based on what is possible. As people project themselves into optimistic futures clearly connected to the present, they begin to experience some hopefulness. By using the techniques described above it's possible to get a team moving again or move a working team from good to great.
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Research published recently suggests the average working adult in the UK is “59% happy in their current job role”. Researchers commissioned by Surbiton High School asked 2,000 employees to rate their level of contentment at work in 11 key areas, “from pay and company perks to relationships with colleagues and management”.
According to the study, workers are generally satisfied with their holiday allowance and relationship with colleagues, giving ratings of seven out of ten for both. Perks received four out of ten, the lowest score, with employees believing they should be entitled to mobile phones, laptops and even private health care.
Respondents were unhappy about their promotion prospects, which were rated just five out of 10. They gave a more encouraging six out of ten each for level of pay, relationship with the boss, work load, working hours, working environment, social life, size of team and hierarchy.
14% claimed they would be happier if they were allowed regular tea breaks, while 34% appreciated being able to manage their own workload. One in three said they liked the feeling of being able to make a difference, while 22% wanted to be able to talk to people every day. An easy commute was also important to 35% of people, while 18% said they would appreciate yearly bonuses.
When it comes to profession, teachers were happiest at work (presumably the poll took place before Education Secretary Michael Gove called for pupils to work longer days and have fewer holidays), with the “satisfaction they gained from working with children far outweighing the negatives”. Secretaries were second happiest group at work, followed in order by engineers, accountants, drivers, shop assistants, caterers, trades people, lawyers and those working in customer care.
Career dissatisfaction continues to be a key reason why people continue to give up their jobs to start their own business, with numbers continuing to rise. According to Enterprise Nation, there was a 10% increase in new businesses in 2012 (484,224) when compared to 2011 (440,600).
It’s hardly the greatest time to be a young British adult, trying to make your way in the cruel new world in which we find ourselves.
Punitive fees and budget-busting living costs mean a university education is set to once again become the preserve of society’s wealthier members. With households under immense pressure, many parents (even those who would be considered fully paid-up members of the middle classes), simply can’t find the money to pay for their sons and daughters to go to university.
Hard luck. Welcome to the real world, you might say. Why not go and get a job like the rest of us? Well, things aren’t that easy. As reported by the Mail Online in late January, according to a study by the Work Foundation, youth unemployment in the UK has increased at a faster rate than any country in the G8 since the start of the recession five years ago.
Indeed, out of the countries that make up the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), only Spain and Greece have higher rates of youth unemployment than the UK (currently standing at about 1m). Youth unemployment here in the UK among 15 to 24 year olds increased by a staggering 35 per cent between 2008 and 2011, compared to an average of 15 per cent in the G8 countries (ie Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, UK and USA). The politicians should hang their heads in shame for failing young people so badly, you might say.
According to the Work Foundation report, during the same period youth unemployment decreased in Germany, Russia and Japan, which, said the report’s authors, suggests that youth unemployment problems in the UK couldn’t be attributed entirely to the recession, other factors have clearly played a part.
One of the report’s author, Lizzie Crowley, said: “'The government should focus on those policies that have been shown to work, cherry-picking the best responses from other countries and adapting them to the needs of the UK labour market.”
Many experts see apprenticeships as a useful weapon in the fight against endemic youth unemployment in the UK and elsewhere. The Work Foundation report recommended that the government should do more to encourage larger businesses in particular to sign up to an apprenticeship agreement.
Another report published recently by the Centre for Economics and Business Research claimed that 3.8m people will complete an apprenticeship in the next decade, contributing £3.4bn to the UK economy a year in productivity gains by 2022.
Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, Vince Cable, said: "This research confirms the economic importance of apprenticeships and sends a clear message that they deliver for employers, individuals and the economy. I want to see more small and medium-sized businesses reap the benefits of apprenticeships, which is why we have introduced a £1,500 incentive for SMEs who take on a young person.”
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said apprentices were “vital to Great British business”. He continued: “They are at the heart of our drive to provide employers with people who have the skills needed for their businesses to prosper and compete, often in a global market.”
This week, National Apprenticeship Week (NAW) 2013 is taking place. According to the National Apprenticeship Service, which organises NAW: “Apprenticeships deliver real returns, helping [you] to improve productivity and be more competitive. Training apprentices can also be more cost-effective than hiring skilled staff, leading to lower overall training and recruitment costs.
"Apprenticeships deliver skills designed around your business needs, providing the skilled workers you need for the future. They also help you develop the specialist skills you need to keep pace with the latest technology and working practices in your sector.”
Although many employers choose to pay more, the National Minimum Wage for apprentices is £2.65 per hour, making them an affordable option for many firms. There are even grants available to some employers. Maybe it’s time your business joined the fight against youth unemployment and took on an apprentice. Looks like the politicians need all the help they can get.
The light bulb went off for me when I read Marketing 3.0 by Kottler. For a brand to be authentic there needs to be full alignment with the culture in the organisation. HR is the new marketing.
Almost as an extension of that is the increasing belief that passion is the ‘X-factor’ in culture. My friend, colleague and business partner Yanky Fachler wrote about the need for “fire in the belly” ten years ago. Since then books such as Mavericks At Work, Poke the Box and The Thank You Economy all agree that passion can and should be the driving force for your business. Their argument is that in a world where everything is commoditised and similar, the only way to differentiate yourself is with your passion.
Since Marketing 3.0, Bookbuzz has covered a wide range of books in the HR and marketing space all touching on that subject. They include:
The Thank You Economy by Gary Vaynerchuk really hit it home for me. He would go as far to say that the next battleground for business after e-commerce and technology will be culture. The book is about extreme customer care (similar to “delivering happiness” and how to use social media. What do you think he thinks is most important for businesses, customers or staff? Giving his obsession with customer care you would suspect he would maintain that the customers are most important. Nope, he is adamant that your focus should be on your staff.
And he takes a leaf out of Why work sucks and how to fix it and applies ROWE (the results only work environment) approach. No rules; treat staff as adults. He talks about the need for a Chief Culture Officer, which is not to be confused with the Chief Curiosity Office that Little Bets and Egonomics would suggest. What else does he say?
As a start-up and as a small business, “culture as the new battle ground” is good news. This is where you can compete with big business. They can’t beat you on culture. If you don’t believe me, I suggest you read Killing Giants.
In the latest installment of Marcela from Rico Mexican Kitchen's startup story, she employs her first member of staff and decides how best to distribute the everyday responsibilities.
Marcela was advised that her new employee would be extremely important to her business so she wanted to find someone she could trust and who could take on some of the responsibilities to allow her to concentrate on making Rico Mexican Kitchen a success. Having found that employee, can they find the right balance between friendship and work relationship?
With her new employee in place, they created a mind map to help them list all of the jobs that need to be done, who will be responsible for what and how they can support each other.
Do you have any advice for Marcela on her new employee and how having him around may affect her and the business? How can she ensure she is aware of what needs to be done at all times? How much input should she have in the work done by her employee now that they have split their responsibilities?
You can find out more about Marcela on the interactive business website www.inafishbowl.com
I dread appraisals. I sit through every one clenched and sweating, convinced I’ve cost the company gazillions in lost business and waiting for my boss to tell me to clear my desk and get out. I expect I have a face like a frightened deer. I also expect my boss thinks I have some sort of nervous disorder (I probably do).
In fact, I usually leave the room feeling fairly chipper. I’m lucky enough to work for a company that uses appraisals to give a fair review, set realistic objectives and listen to what I have to say about the business. Which is as it should be, right?
It seems I’m one of the lucky ones. An Investors in People survey revealed this week that almost one in three (29%) UK employees believe appraisals are a waste of time, and just under a quarter (23%) think their boss sees an appraisal as nothing more than a bureaucratic exercise.
This is a shame, because no matter how much I dread my appraisal I appreciate its value. But it gets worse. The research implies that the UK’s small businesses don’t particularly care about appraisals, with only slightly more than half (54%) even bothering to offer them to staff. This compares with four in five (81%) bigger businesses.
It’s easy to take figures like these and use them to create a picture of an army of hard-nosed small business owners shouting “Stop whingeing and get on with it!” every time an employee has the cheek to express a smidgeon of dissatisfaction. But I don’t believe this for a second. In fact, I’m willing to bet that most of the people who think their appraisal is a waste of time work for bigger businesses, not smaller ones.
The reason I think this is something the big boss at our company, BHP, said to me this week. I was picking his brains for an article on staff retention and he suddenly leant forward, fixed me with a rueful gaze and declared, “The problem is, Simon, that as soon as you get to ten employees you stop having personal relationships with them. You have to introduce systems.”
He’s right. As businesses grow, the gap between the boss and the people at the other end of the chain also grows until, eventually, they don’t know each other at all, and everybody matters just a little bit less. So you need appraisals, to keep tabs on everyone – and, sometimes, just to give the impression that you care. At this point they can become a waste of time.
In a smaller business, the boss has more far more opportunity to find out what makes their staff tick, what they want to achieve, how they’re getting on with the job. Bosses who take the time to get to know their staff may not feel the need to conduct an appraisal every year or every quarter; they’re already doing it, every day. This doesn’t mean they shouldn’t conduct formal appraisals; but it does mean that when they do their appraisals are far more likely to have value, simply because they care.