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Why going on holiday is good for you and your business

July 02, 2014 by Guest contributor

Why going on holiday is good for you and your business {{}}Research suggests that going on holiday not only makes you feel good while you’re away, but also helps you feel better for weeks, sometimes even months afterwards.

But how many business owners have taken heed of the advice provided by the Holiday Health Experiment, as reported in 2013 by tour operator Kuoni and Nuffield Health, which urged us to make sure we get away? Huge numbers of us appear not to be resting sufficiently and we know that start-ups and sole traders are among the worst at letting go, fearing leaving their business unmanned. 

As much as we know we need it, we can all come up with reasons not to take a holiday (‘I’m too busy’, ‘no-one can look after my business like I do’, ‘I can’t afford to take my foot off the gas’, etc). But whatever reasoning is holding us back, think again, because jetting off has been clinically shown to reduce blood pressure, help us sleep better and bounce back from stress, benefits that shouldn’t be ignored.

But it’s not just about getting away; it’s about completely switching off. Years ago it was technologically impossible to keep in touch on a beach, but now it’s the norm, with emails, text messages and social media with us wherever we go – but only if we choose to have it that way.

As tempting as it is to always have one eye on business, we are risking our health and wellbeing and thereby our ability to perform well at work if we don’t take a proper break. So, the benefits of a complete break are clear, but we are still surrounded by evidence of business owners struggling to switch off.

Earlier this year, Alexander Ehmann, deputy director of policy at the Institute of Directors, said: “You won’t be able to stop people checking their BlackBerry from the beach, and it may be necessary to be contactable in emergencies, but we’d call on businesses to use their common sense and relax when on leave.”

Part of being able to switch off is ensuring your business is covered while you’re away. Holidays are always a challenge, whether for start-ups and smaller businesses anxious about staying in control or for larger businesses juggling staffing levels. In a fast-moving, 24/7 world it can be difficult to let go, but with the technologies and services available today there’s no reason why business owners should not be able to relax and enjoy their holidays.

Returning from a holiday feeling happy and healthier makes for greater productivity and creativity, so don’t be afraid to relax. After all, regular, restful breaks are the best tonic for you and your business.

  • Blog supplied by Lisa Gough of telephone answering service provider Moneypenny and virtual phone system Penelope.

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Three schoolboy (or girl) errors to avoid when hiring online

June 30, 2014 by Guest contributor

Doh{{}}Smart businesses and entrepreneurs are increasingly getting more hands on deck by using freelancers online. Gone is the need for an endless list of “stuff I need to do” (aka everything). Whittling down your to-do list to the stuff you want to do (and are best at) and getting someone else to do the rest frees up your valuable time.

Across Elance and oDesk there are over 8m freelancers covering over 2,500 skills – that’s a big pool of talent you can tap into. But it’s not just a question of posting a job and then forgetting all about it. Online hiring can make a huge difference to your business but only if you approach it in the right way. Avoid these schoolboy errors and you’ll be laughing.

Error 1: Not knowing what you want

If you don’t know what you want, you’ll never get what you want. Whether you need a mobile app created or a piece of content written, clarity and details are all important.

The very first question you need to ask yourself is quite simply, what exactly do I need them to do? The more clearly you can define this the easier the process will be.  Let’s say your website needs an overhaul. Perhaps you’ve gone as far as you can with free website templates and now need more functionality. Or perhaps it’s time to integrate a customised ecommerce engine that connects your market with your products. Take the time to work out exactly what you need. If you have an existing site, note where you are having issues currently (eg technical problems that come up on a regular basis). Prioritise your wish list into “must-haves” and “nice-to haves”.

If you don’t have the technical know-how to write a really great brief, your first job should be to find someone who can help you craft the brief before it even gets to the freelancer who will actually do the work.  Trying to write a brief for something you don’t understand yourself is schoolboy error #1.

Error 2: Starting with a monster

In the same way that you don’t buy a car without taking it for a test drive and you wouldn’t buy a year’s supply of wine you haven’t tasted, don’t launch into an enormous project with a freelancer you haven’t worked with before.

Start with something small to test the waters. Bite-size chunks are what you’re after. You could even try giving the same small job to a couple of different freelancers (paying them both of course – nobody should have to work for free). That way you get to see firsthand whom you like working with best. When you’ve selected your freelancer, again make sure the project is split into clear milestones and deliverables – and don’t forget to check in regularly.

Error 3: Hire in haste – repent at leisure

You can find talent very quickly online. Often within minutes of posting a job you’ll receive proposals from relevant freelancers and it can be tempting to choose quickly and let them get on with it. Don’t. If you were hiring a full-time employee, you wouldn’t take the first CV that lands in your inbox, you’d wait until you’d had a few applicants, conducted interviews and checked references. All this can happen much more quickly online, of course, where you can see a person’s portfolio and read feedback from previous clients.

The bigger the job however, the more time you should take selecting the right person for it. On Elance, for example, you can conduct a video interview with your shortlisted freelancers to get a better feel for whether they are right. Also bear in mind that often the best freelancers are busy people and they may not have chance to see your proposal right away. For bigger design or development jobs you may be better off posting the job and then inviting selected freelancers to apply. Be sure to tell them why you’ve selected them specifically – flattery gets you everywhere!

Blog supplied by Hayley Conick, Country Manager for Elance UK & Ireland.

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Nine telecoms mistakes to avoid when starting a business

June 26, 2014 by Guest contributor

Nine telecoms mistakes to avoid when starting a business{{}}Telecoms are an essential part of any new business – so you need to get them right from day one. Here are nine of the most common (but easily avoidable) mistakes new business owners make with their telecoms…

1 Only having a mobile number

Research shows more than 30% of people do not trust and therefore will not contact mobile numbers. Plus, you’ll only have a single voicemail for personal and business calls. 

2 Using your home number

How will you know if it’s a friend or customer calling? Also, you can’t turn off your business in the evening and at weekends, while there is limited functionality for handling a second call and personalising voicemails.

3 Long-term contracts

It’s tempting to accept offers of free installation if you sign a long-term contract, but if you expand and/or move you could face penalties for cancelling the contract. Plus, you are locking yourself into prices in an environment where prices are generally going down.

4 084 numbers

Using inbound numbers such as 0800, 0844 or 0845 creates two problems. Firstly, using 0845 for post-sales service is now illegal. Secondly, if most of your customers call you from their mobile, they’ll get a warning telling them it will cost a lot of money, at which point 40% hang up.  

5 Not reading the small print

Check contract lengths, notice periods and penalty clauses, and make sure your supplier is signed up to the Telecoms Ombudsman (here’s a list of participating companies).

6 Planning for the future

Are the telecoms flexible and scalable should you expand? If you are working from home, is the number portable should you move into premises?

7 Using numbers provided by your serviced office

This can be very expensive compared to organising your own telecoms and they may not release the number should you move out. Some business centres offer to forward calls but this can be costly. Always ask if you can bring your own and if not are the numbers portable if you leave.

8 Skype

Not everyone in business uses Skype, particularly larger businesses. Also, Skype phone numbers are not portable, so when you have outgrown Skype you’ll lose the use of that number.

9 Call Answering Services

What do you want them to do? If it is just to take a message you need to ask yourself what value is that adding. However, if they can handle certain queries, that can enhance your offering.

So what are the options? For micro businesses, a simple inbound geographic number can be set up for about £7 a month. For a little extra it can have a voicemail and a whisper facility to tell you that it is a business call.

For larger start-ups, the choice is VOIP or traditional telecoms solutions. The more sites and the greater the likelihood of growth, the more likely it is that VOIP is the best solution. If you’re looking for more sophisticated features then a PBX may be better.  This guide and this one will tell you more.

In conclusion, think about your business, not just now, but in the future. Ask the relevant questions of your potential providers and ensure your telecoms align with your plans for the business. If in doubt, an independent telecoms broker can help.

  • Blog supplied by Dave Millett, who has more than 35 years’ telecoms industry experience and now runs independent brokerage and consultancy firm Equinox Communications.

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Could your new business benefit from a virtual assistant?

June 23, 2014 by Guest contributor

Could your new business benefit from a virtual assistant? /Too much work office situations{{}}Not enough hours in the day but can’t afford to take on staff? Looking to focus on your passion as opposed to spending hours on time-consuming admin? Wish you could hire specific staff as and when you need them? Well, taking on a virtual assistant (VA) could be the answer.  

A VA is a highly skilled professional who can provide a diverse range of administrative, technical and creative business support services to businesses operating in a broad range of sectors. Rather than hiring full-time employees to fulfil numerous job roles, businesses use VAs to provide a wide range of skills.

The VA industry is rapidly growing, as businesses wake up to the associated benefits. However, with varying hourly rates and so many to choose from, how do you know which VA is right for your business and what should you consider before taking one on?

Managers: Many VA companies operate a pool of assistants to complete work. Look out for companies that assign one account manager to complete the majority of tasks. It really helps to have a single point of contact.

Sole traders: Most VAs (72%) are sole traders who work with various clients, so make sure you are clear about specific deadlines so your VA can juggle workload appropriately.

Contract: Although there is no minimum commitment in terms of hours and VAs only invoice for work completed, protect yourself with a contract that includes clauses about confidentiality and data protection.

Fees: Although there are no recruitment agency fees or HR-associated benefits to provide, it is important to double-check what the hourly charge includes. For example, this rate usually covers all normal office supplies but excludes postage or anything bought in specifically for a job.

Workload: Weekly work for a VA ranges from general admin to bookkeeping, marketing to events; there is no all-encompassing job description. VAs are also starting to take on more social media responsibilities so make sure you are maximising a broad range of services.

Blog provided by Caroline Wylie owner of Virtually Sorted and founder of the Society of Virtual Assistants.

Further reading

How to become a skilled networker

June 18, 2014 by Guest contributor

How to become a skilled networker/Business people shaking hands{{}}Networking. Some people do with such ease and confidence, elegantly working a room. How we envy them. Because for ​some of us the very notion of networking with strangers fills us with dread. But making the most of social small talk is a valuable skill that we can teach ourselves, because you never know what doors a new contact can open in those few minutes. So, what’s the key to effective networking?

1 Think of networking as free marketing

It’s just another part of your marketing tool kit, which can be refined and improved. And like all tools – knowing when and how to use it, will serve you well. Prepare by writing down two or three short sentences about yourself and your business or idea and learn these in advance. Make it current, factual and positive. This doesn’t need to be a sales pitch; it’s a conversation-starter; an opportunity to introduce yourself and your business to new people or tell people you already know something new so that they can leave with a refreshed version of your ‘asset value’.

2 Networking is just social communication

It’s a conversation between people, not you trying to sell your latest product or service, but a taster, an appetiser. Give a glimpse of what you do using positive, confident language (which you’ve already prepared). And it’s two-way thing – show an interest in what others have to offer, so all parties can see if there’s something of mutual interest to follow-up.

3 Break the uncomfortable first contact by asking a question

Be conversational in your approach with a few casual questions, such as: “How have you found the event so far?”, “What’s your business about?” or “Who’s been your favourite speaker so far?” Top tip for the tongue-tied: worry less about what you have to sell, focus on being interested in the other person person. Top sales people are often great listeners.

4 Don’t be shy about moving on

If you are at an event where badges are given out and networking is part of the agenda, you’re expected to mingle rather than stick with one person for ages. It’s perfectly polite to spend a few moments with someone, make introductions, have a conversation and then say: “Well, it’s been a pleasure speaking to you. I’ll leave you to meet other people…” or “I must take the opportunity to meet so and so…”

5 Be bold – ask for connections or introductions and make them in return

It’s OK to ask if the person can think of another person at the event who might be interested in your service or products. It’s also great when you can recommend someone whose products or interests are similar and agree to connect them via email or social media.

6 Do your follow-up quickly

When you get home or have a few moments to spare, make a list of those you’ve spoken to (or scan their business cards or staple them into a notebook) and make a note of interesting things that will help you to remember them another time. And, of course, follow-up with any promised information. You should follow-up within a few days to make sure trust is maintained.

Blog supplied by Lisa Gagliani, CEO of Bright Ideas Trust, a charity that helps young people in London who aren’t in employment, education or training or who haven’t had the same chances as the rest of society to start their own businesses.

Further reading

Do small firms really need bank finance as much as we're led to believe?

June 16, 2014 by Guest contributor

Do small firms really need bank finance as much as we're led to believe?/English money{{}}I have a Room 101 nomination. It’s media headlines and political comment telling us that 'businesses are unable to access funding from banks, we have to get the banks lending again, we need to make alternative funding available'.

This has been so noisy since the 2008 sub-prime bubble burst that I’m convinced it’s merely a default utterance when political parties sense that 'business' hasn't been in the headlines of late. The tone sounds so desperate at times as to imply an imminent hiatus if this matter isn't addressed. I’m not convinced that the need for bank funding is as important as we’re led to believe.

We accept as fact that since 2008 the banks have reined in their lending, as a response to previous over-lending. A good entrepreneur will secure investment from other sources, because they will perceive the banks’ reluctance to lend merely as a challenge to overcome. Other sources of funding may even be more appropriate, because some can bring additional commitment and proven commercial expertise.

Interestingly, among my local business community there is no issue around borrowing from banks, it's a message that you mainly hear in the media and from politicians – but why?

Historically we’ve been programmed to approach banks for finance. 2008 caused a paradigm shift and while those of us running our own businesses on the frontline are comfortable with this, the banks and politicians haven't caught up yet. There are two reasons – ego and economics. The banks and the City have always been thought of as the 'big boys' to whom us small firms should turn for support. They’re used to being in control – to dominating us.

However, 2008 showed that they aren't that great at managing their own businesses. Their validity to dominate has been undermined, but their ego has not been humbled yet. I’m not an economics expert, but I’d guess that the banks and the State are used to profiting from failing SMEs. Finding money from elsewhere takes away income from the 'big boys'. These are the real reasons for SMEs needing financing from the 'big boys' being in the headlines, it is their income streams that are being affected.

Our UK DNA as a nation of shopkeepers has prevailed and revealed its talent for resourcefulness and diversification. We don't need the 'big boys'. Question is – how long will it take them to adjust to their new relationship with us? Maybe we'll start asking for their investment once more when they’ve grown up and proved that they can run their businesses as well as they have expected us to run ours in the past.

Blog provided by Samantha Acton, who founded Domestic Angels in 2002, which provides home cleaning services across the Bournemouth, Poole and Christchurch areas.

Further reading

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