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Six tips to prevent important tasks from falling through the cracks

August 27, 2014 by Guest contributor

Whether you’re a sole trader or manage many employees, you must ensure that important work gets done to a high standard and on time. So how do you prevent important tasks from being neglected?

1 Stop doing everything yourself

Share the load with people who are stronger in areas where you are weaker. The work will get done; you’ll feel less stressed; and your business will benefit.

2 Give away low-skill, low-fun tasks first

The tasks to delegate are the ones that are least enjoyable and require less-skill. Why? Because they are: easier to train others to do; cheapest to hire for; and often create the most distractions.

3 Match the correct person to the role

Before you hire, define the role along with responsibilities and desired output. Then match that against a few key considerations:

  • Do they have the right skills for the job?
  • Does their personality type match the tasks they'll be doing?
  • Are they enthusiastic about the job?

4 Develop a system

Introducing a system is critical if you want to ensure tasks don’t fall through the cracks. It will also you help you manage your team.

  • Define the outcome. Ensure team members know exactly what is expected of them.
  • Timeline everything. Start with the date when the result needs to be achieved and plan backward from there.
  • Ask employees to recap. Hear it in their words and make sure they have understood your instructions.
  • Include a touch point in your diary. Mid-way through the project make sure everything is on track. If you wait until the end – it may be too late to deal with serious issues.
  • Install a task-management system. A basic spreadsheet can be used to manage tasks.

5 Document everything you do

Create concise but comprehensive documentation and it will feed back into your business by making the training of new hires a breeze, ensuring your business runs without interruption. Remember to keep it concise and simple:

  • Limit yourself to one-page documents.
  • Make use of checklists and bullet points.

6 Use a Google Drive spreadsheet

At the London Coaching Group, we have an efficient team that works very closely. And we exchange barely any emails.

What you need:

  • A Google account (which is free) and an activated Google Drive (also free).
  • A Google Spreadsheet within Google Drive (click Create > Spreadsheet). This works much like an Excel Spreadsheet. It must also be shared with your team (click on Share in the top right).

You then create column headings for:

  • Task description.
  • Due date.
  • Date started (filled in by your team to indicate when work on a task has begun).
  • Date complete (filled in by your team to let you know a task is ready for review).
  • Team Qs/comments (filled in by the team if they have any comments about the task).
  • Leader responses (filled in by you, giving comments to the team).

So how do we use this?

Whenever a task comes to mind, I, as the team leader, add it to the spreadsheet straight away. My team then fills in the fields accordingly. Once a task has a "Date complete" I double-check the task. Once I've double-checked and it's done, I delete it from this list. Only I can delete.

My team and I keep this document open during our working day. It acts as our communal 'to-do' list. Everyone is aware of the status of all other projects, which makes meetings a breeze and ensures nothing falls through the cracks.

By using the tips and tools above you can run your business and your projects smoothly and efficiently. You will be 100% in control of each project, which reduces stress and that feeling of a ‘heavy load’. So you’ll have more time to work on your business and its future.

Copyright © Shweta Jhajharia 2014. Shweta is an award-winning business coach and founder of The London Coaching Group.

Further reading

Four ways to guarantee fast and effective team meetings

August 19, 2014 by Guest contributor

Four ways to guarantee fast and effective team meetings{{}}Although they can sound like a waste of time, effective team meetings are essential for all new (and existing) businesses if they are to reach their potential. They can help you leverage the collective intelligence in your business, as well as move the team forward cohesively.

Ideally you should have more team meetings, not fewer. This is because effective meetings lead to:

  • Broader buy-in and consensus.
  • Better understanding of complex problems and issues.
  • Better understanding of individual contributions.
  • Greater positive social obligation.

But what should you avoid if you want to ensure effective team meetings?

  1. Lack of drama (conflict). Heated arguments and demonstrations of passion, as long as they remain constructive, can generate a deeper and broader understanding of the topic.
  2. Lack of context. The type of meeting and the organisation of the meeting must be tailored to the issues being addressed.

There are four important elements that need to be implemented if you want an effective team meeting:

1 Define the purpose

Be really clear. Are you strategising or discussing operations? What do you want to get out of this meeting?  Everything stems from the purpose.

2 Create an agenda

As the leader of the meeting, you should make your agenda sharp – and make sure you stick to it.

3 Set a time limit

Keep to the purpose and agenda. Otherwise you could spend half your day in team meetings without actually getting anything productive done.

4 Limit the number of attendees

If you want meetings that will move your business forward, the right people need to be present. This will come naturally if you move through the previous steps. Once you know the purpose and agenda for your meeting, it becomes clear who needs to be there – and who is only going to be wasting time if they attend.

Every meeting is different and will have unique requirements, so you need to be flexible with your structure. However, these elements are common to all effective and productive team meetings.

Above all, before every team meeting, ask yourself one simple question: "What do I want my team members to achieve after this meeting?" You will be amazed at the clarity that answering that one question will bring – and what a difference that will make to the meeting and its effectiveness.

Copyright © Shweta Jhajharia 2014. Shweta is a multi- award-winning business coach and founder of The London Coaching Group.

Further reading                                                             

How long can you bootstrap a start-up before real investment is required?

August 18, 2014 by Guest contributor

How long can you bootstrap a start-up before real investment is required?{{}}Battle lines have been drawn in the entrepreneurial world, with venture capital squaring up to its penny-pinching cousin, bootstrapping.

Before budding entrepreneurs can reach the dizzying highs of business triumph, they must first launch their idea off the ground, and this requires finance. Venture capital (AKA private equity) is hard to obtain, competition is immense and investors can be reluctant to hand over their capital without evidence that the business can work and eventually bring a return. Most start-ups must go through a phase of bootstrapping before they can prove to investors that they are a good bet. The question is – can bootstrapping successfully continue indefinitely?

Bootstrapping means entrepreneurs going it alone, by whatever means possible. This can involve tapping into savings and accumulating private debt, including loans and borrowing on credit cards. It is clear that if bootstrapping goes wrong, it can go terribly wrong for the individuals involved.

However, there are also many positives associated with bootstrapping. Bootstrapping does not mean sacrificing equity, and it allows entrepreneurs to keep control of their business. This can seem undeniably appealing; the dream of starting your own business is, after all, about freedom. Bootstrapping allows business owners to call the shots (and, perhaps, make their own mistakes).

Investing personal finances arguably promotes caution, and a real consideration regarding where money is being spent. When their livelihood and savings are on the line, people tend to think through every business decision with precision. Lastly, when you bootstrap there is only one possible source of income, and that is your customer. Pleasing the customer is an essential element of business that many failed start-ups somehow seem to have missed, and bootstrapping can help prevent this. Yet, for many businesses, a point is reached when the credit cards are ‘maxed’, when customer revenue cannot come in fast enough and at that time growth crawls. Bankruptcy is a real possibility and driving the business forward seems unfeasible. 

It is hard to obtain venture capital backing, but it is also hard to grow your business at a sufficient rate without it. Focussing on building the product is not enough, marketing and sales must be grown if the business is to succeed. The fact of the matter is it takes money to be noticed.

Hiring is affected, too. When candidates look for a job with a start-up, they need to know that the business they might join is financially secure, with viable plans for growth. Investors can provide credibility and reassurance. Joining a start-up can feel like a risk to many, and if the business is stagnant and relying on personal investment to stay afloat, it may not seem like a risk worth taking. For business to attract the best, they need to not only be ambitious, but also have the finances to back up their ambition.

It is all about the rate of success. If your business survives bootstrapping financially, it still faces the hurdles of sustained growth and marketing without an influx of investment. When it comes to starting your business, bootstrapping is for the beginning – otherwise it can be the end.

Copyright (c) BlueGlue 2014

Further reading

Do you have to give your employees time off for bank holidays?

August 15, 2014 by Guest contributor

Do you have to give your employees time off for bank holidays?{{}}Many of us look forward to that longer break that bank holiday weekends bring, because it can provide the perfect opportunity to get together with family and friends, who we don’t see as much as we’d like due to the demands of our busy daily lives. But do businesses look forward to bank holidays?

Each bank holiday is reported to cost the UK economy £2.3bn (according to the Centre for Economics and Business Research) and they can cause a headache for business owners, with some questioning the need for so many public holidays. But the UK has the lowest number of national public holidays of all major economies, with just eight public holidays compared to a G20 average of 12. The UK even has fewer public holidays than countries viewed as stereotypically industrious, including Japan (15) and China (11).

Do you need to let staff have time off for bank holidays?

According to Direct.gov.uk, bank or public holidays do not have to be given as paid leave, but an employer can choose to include bank holidays as part of a worker’s statutory annual leave.

Most retailers are now open during bank holidays and expect their staff to work their normal or Sunday hours. However, most offices close, while choosing to include bank holidays within employees’ holiday entitlement. Most office-based small businesses close, but some staff (and many business owners, of course) work from home.

Should this come out of holiday entitlement?

According to ACAS and Direct.gov.uk, this should come out of holiday entitlement, they also state that: “Employers can set the times when workers can take their leave - for example, a Christmas shut down.”

Many seasonal businesses don’t allow holiday to be taken during the summer months, but is this fair? For parents in the UK, taking holiday during term time to fit in with school holidays means higher costs for breaks away.

How can you keep your staff happy if your business operates on bank holidays?

If you are an office-based business you might want to allow employees to take it in turns to work bank holidays or allow some staff to work from home if possible.

Speak to your customers and find out if they are working before you shut down your business for the bank holiday weekend. If you will be sitting in a silent office with phones that are unlikely to ring, it might be just as well to close down.

Other businesses welcome bank holidays, of course, because they are able to cash in on extra money being spent by people who are happy because they are not at work.

Copyright © Chinny Ogbuagu 2014, regular writer for the Pitney Bowes blog.

Further reading

Getting the right technology to enable your employees to work flexibly

August 13, 2014 by Guest contributor

Getting the right technology to enable your employees to work flexibly {{}}

The right for employees to request flexible working is now in full force. With these new regulations, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills predicts that up to 20 million people across the country could be asking their employees to work flexibly. Employers can reject these requests, but whether they do or not, to have a happy, satisfied workforce, start-ups and small businesses must have the right technology and communication systems to accommodate modern working methods.

Recently we conducted some research looking at the working habits of small businesses and it seems that employees up and down the country are waking up to the benefits technological advances provide in driving growth.

The survey suggests that 78% of small businesses are now using cloud-computing solutions such as Google Docs, Livedrive and GoTo Meeting. The smartphone revolution is part and parcel of everyday life and increasingly in the working lives of UK small business employees, with 87% using smartphones for work and 64% using tablet computers.

To keep staff costs low, and with the majority of small businesses employing just a handful of people, only 20% employ an IT Manager, with 64% of small-business owners taking responsibility for their IT operations.

The use of technology to enable better ways of working will be important for small businesses in setting themselves apart from the competition and achieving sustainable growth. Places of work are no longer restricted to one location, and employees are increasingly logging on and working from various sites. This will only become more prevalent as the new rules around flexible working are exercised. 

With that in mind, here are a few pieces of technology advice for start-ups. As your business grows and more employees come on board, they might request the right to work flexibly, so make sure you have the infrastructure in place from the start.

  • Utilise the cloud

Little maintenance is needed with cloud solutions because software updates download automatically and it also enables access to documents from anywhere with an internet connection, which is crucial for remote workers.

  • Paper, the business resource (and cost) of yesterday

With today’s technology you can easily run a business that doesn’t depend so heavily on paper, and this can save you a lot of money. Simple functions such as using ‘Track changes’ in Word mean you don’t have to print pages and pages and then waste ink by scrawling over them.

  • Don’t worry, be ‘appy

With smartphones increasingly being used for business, make full use of free business apps such as Evernote and Basecamp, both of which let you save notes and create and share to-do lists with colleagues, simply from the touch of a screen.

Blog provided by Aisling Brennan, marketing manager of faxing service provider eFax.

Further reading

Why isn’t your business selling to overseas customers?

August 11, 2014 by Mark Williams

Why isn’t your business selling to overseas customers?18292504{{}}Sacré bleu. The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Modern Languages has asked all political parties to include a new “framework for national recovery in language learning” in their 2015 general election manifestos.

That framework should include pledges to “transform the reputation of UK citizens as poor linguists, reluctant to value languages other than English” and “actively encourage business and employers to get involved in tackling the crisis”. The good news for businesses is the group also suggested that employers might be offered tax incentives to “recruit or train homegrown linguists”.

Our less than impressive reputation for linguistic prowess is well earned it seems, with the UK lagging way behind other EU countries when it comes to speaking foreign languages. According to European Commission (EC) research, only 39% of UK adults can hold a conversation in a foreign language, compared to the EU average of 54%.

“So what?” you might say, after all, “English is the international language of business”, n’est pas?  Well, to an extent, oui, I mean, yes, but English isn’t always widely spoken in many markets and lack of foreign language skills is holding back many UK businesses – and that could include yours.

UK employers frequently bemoan the shortage of foreign language-speaking British workers. A UK Commission for Employment and Skills survey in 2013 found that where vacancies were not filled because of a lack of skills, in almost a fifth of cases that meant lack of foreign language skills. According to the CBI/Pearson Education and Skills Survey 2014, 65% of firms require foreign language skills.

Au contraire, you counter, as you sit there all smug, armed with your conversational French, Spanish or Italian. Yet many Brits who can speak a foreign language don’t put that key skill to good commercial use, and perhaps too many of us are guilty of not looking beyond our own shores as much as we should. According to the CBI, only a fifth of UK SMEs export, despite businesses being 11% more likely to survive if they do.

Readers of a Euro-sceptic disposition might want to look away now, but UK exports to EU countries alone support 4.2m UK jobs and are worth £211bn to the national economy (source: FT.com), while total UK exports to non-EU countries are worth almost £150bn a year (source: Gov.uk). The US remains the most important single market to the UK economy, accounting for £41bn or 13.4% of all exports (source: Santander UK).

The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) recently published its International Trade Survey for Q1 2014 and it found that while 90% of UK firms have ambitions to grow domestically, only 43% are looking beyond the UK for sales, despite 55% of current exporters reporting a positive impact on their bottom line within just 12 months of expanding into new markets abroad.

John Longworth, BCC director general, says: “We need to do more as a nation to take the fear out of exporting. I speak to businesses that have full order books here in the UK and don't see why they would need to take their goods and services overseas. To transform businesses’ mindset, we need to create an environment that makes it worthwhile for them to export.

“We must invest even more in supporting and promoting international trade. The UK should be matching the resourcing dedicated to export support provided by our major international competitors. And government intervention must be more focused in areas that can really make a difference, such as providing greater access to finance to growing firms – particularly when a quarter of non-exporters say that increased funding would encourage them to export. Only a concerted national campaign and sustained investment will get more UK firms to look beyond our shores for growth opportunities.”

Even simple steps, such as creating pages in select foreign languages could attract many more overseas visitors to your website and give your sales a serious boost. More of us finally committing to learning to speak a foreign language well would also greatly help, of course.

• Visit the BCC Export Britain website for more information about how to start selling to customers overseas.

Blog written by Mark Williams, freelance content writer and editor of Start Up Donut.

Further reading

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