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Desiree Ashton

doing the legwork, so you don't have to

Category Archives: Networking

Balancing the demands of a fulfilling career and a busy social calendar is a common challenge faced by many business owners.  All too often a day, week or even a whole month can be consumed by a growing sense of frustration that there are simply not enough hours in the day to get everything done that you need or want to.  Frustration breeds fatigue, which can ultimately have a very negative impact on your overall productivity.

One of the quickest and most effective ways to remedy this situation is to go back to basics and take control of your diary.  Here are some simple pointers as to how:

1.  Work with only one diary – too many people fall into the habit of running a ‘work’ and then a separate ‘personal’ diary.  At worst, this can lead to missed appointments and diary clashes; at best it leads to you feeling stressed and overwhelmed by a constant stream of demands on your time. The solution:  Merge your two diaries and run them as one.  You are, after all, only one person.

2.  Categorise all your activities – once set up and running with one diary, colour-code your activities accordingly as either personal or professional.  Not only will this help you see at a glance which particular ‘hat’ you should be wearing, it will also allow you to sense-check that you are not overloading your days with all work and no play.  If there are other activities which you would like to attend more regularly, such as fitness classes, networking events or a monthly lunch with ex-colleagues, drop these in there, too.  It’s far easier to edit and remove these nearer the time if need be, than it is to shoe-horn them in at the last minute.

3.  Be realistic with all your timings – remember to include in your diary travel time to and from meetings and ideally allow for 15 minutes prep before and 15 minutes debrief time after business appointments.  Not only does this build in a natural contingency for minor shifts in your day, it also allows you to arrive prepared and then, equally as important, clear your mind afterwards, so that you can attend to your next task with a fresh head.

4.  Schedule your holidays at the beginning of each year – even if we don’t know where we want to go, most of us know more or less when we’d like to take annual leave, so diarise these nice and early to ensure that you can plan important meetings and projects around these key dates.  Holidays offer busy professionals an opportunity to shift down a gear and re-energise.  Regularly spaced breaks over a 12 month period will ensure you remain focused and fresh – the perfect cocktail for those seeking a return to success.

By taking control of your diary, you assume control of one of your most important assets: your time.  Planning how and where you spend this time, building in small contingencies and accepting that you are one person, as opposed to two separate people, will mean you retain balance and perspective in all areas of your life.

If you have enjoyed this post, you may also enjoy my earlier post on Improving Your Focus.

If you would like to find out more about how I could bring organisation to your business, please visit my website.

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Are you taking full advantage of the power of Linked In status updates to communicate with your colleagues and connections?

At a recent networking event I discussed this very topic, in particular how to maintain a steady flow of updates and build a robust activity feed, as opposed to a long (and boring) list of who you have most recently ‘connected’ with.

An activity feed which simply lists your most recent connections does little to truly market your services or reflect an extensive, in-depth  knowledge of your particular field.  Yet, log into any home page on Linked In and you will notice that the Status Updates of your connections are very much in the foreground.  Added to the fact that many Linked In members opt to receive direct emails detailing their connections’ updates, a current and relevant activity feed is clearly prime marketing space to ensure you remain front of mind.

Here are 10 tips to help you get into the swing of posting relevant and interesting status updates on Linked In.  Doing just one of these once or twice a week will keep your feed current and ensure that you appear regularly and consistently in your contacts’ network updates.

1.  Identify some active and relevant discussion groups within your field and contribute to them

This will automatically raise your profile and well-timed, considered responses can be a useful ‘organic’ marketing tool for your business.

2.  Reference a historic post or an interesting case study within your blog or website

What’s old to you might be new or timely to someone else.  Focus on a catchy ‘hook’ for your audience.  Maximise ‘hook’ space by using either www.bit.ly or www.tinyurl.com to shorten links.

3. Share a link to an article which you have read and enjoyed

Focus particularly on one that is current, informative and relates to your “brand” or business in some way.

4. Post a link to a current news item detailing developments in your sector

This demonstrates that you are interested in ensuring you are up-to-date with progress and new initiatives.

5. Share an inspiring “quote of the day.”

Choose one of your own or one that resonates with you.  Maybe you can even link a famous quote back to one of your blog posts or a case study?

6. Post a piece of advice relevant to your sector

… and link it back to a relevant page or case study in your website.

7. Share an interesting YouTube video or a ‘coffee-break’ podcast

Go for short and simple, and something that reflects your business interests.

8. Post a link to an article in which YOU are mentioned, or to an event which you will be attending.

The original source will most likely re-share the link to their followers, increasing your audience.

9. Celebrate recent success relating to your key products or services

Something like, “Looking forward to working with three new clients this week” will highlight new business.  Market the fact that your business is national (or international) by outlining a busy week, “London, Aberdeen and York – a great week of meetings and two new clients!”

10. Publicly thank or recommend a trusted supplier for their great service and on-going support.

They will no doubt re-share your ‘thanks’ to their networks and by acknowledging their high standards, you underline your own, too.

Leveraging the power of Linked In status updates is quick and easy when you know how.  Be front of mind, not left behind.

If you have enjoyed this blog post, you may also enjoy some of my other posts on Six Simple Ways to Improve Your Focus and Supe Up Your Networking Potential

For many of my clients, January is a month which is synonymous with meetings.  Having already completed their own planning sessions in November / December, the start of a new year sees them depart the confines of their office to hit the open road and engage in some serious face-to-face lead generation, meetings and networking.

Most of my clients have invested time and effort into nurturing a loyal and long-standing client base.  It’s likely that they will be the first port of call for new initiatives in 2012.   Nevertheless, far from being complacent, they still understand the role that face-to-face meetings can play in allowing them to remain close to their customers.  The conversations which they have are not simply about identifying what opportunities beckon on their clients’ horizons, but also what changes and developments may have taken place in their own business which allow them to offer existing clients even more.

My role, particularly during January, often centres on supporting my clients to attend such meetings.  Here are just 3 ways in which I currently do this:

Documentation / PresentationsWell-prepared documents and presentations which showcase some of my clients’ recent achievements will serve to remind their clients of the skills and experience available to them.  These can also be used to draw attention to new developments (such as new premises, or new members of staff) which enhance or extend the offer.  Personal and pre-formatted copies of all materials can be left with their client for further consideration.

Research – Being aware of new developments which have taken place within the end-client organisation engenders trust and may also allow my client to highlight areas where their service could prove particularly relevant.  Such developments may include restructures, a new CEO, a new venture or even closure of one arm of the business.  Understanding the context of their end-client will allow them to engage in a more informed and fruitful conversation.

Follow Up – Certain meetings may require timely or detailed follow-up.  A quick call or email to me will allow background tasks to be efficiently delegated so that my client can focus exclusively on preparing for and attending their next meeting.

These are 3 simple ways in which I assist my clients to hit the ground running in January…. The early bird does indeed catch the worm.

What are you doing to get ahead in January?

If you would like to find out more about what I do for my clients, please visit my website and feel free to get in touch:  pa@desireeashton.com

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This week marks an important week for business – Global Entreprenuership Week.  Running in over 104 countries world-wide, there are some 40,000 events planned which are designed to  bring businesses big and small together, connect people, share ideas and also offer support and inspiration to drive the next generation of business owners to achieve their goals.  Quite an undertaking, and two days in, there’s a veritable buzz in the air….and across social media.   #GEW is providing a vibrant Twitter feed of what’s happening, and where.

Among the many events that are running in my area, I took time out of my busy Monday schedule to attend an event at MENTA in Haverhill, Suffolk, run in conjunction with Enterprising Acorns.  Both organisations offer invaluable support to budding and growing businesses, and the Monday morning session was a perfect example of the great work they do.

After a brief meet and greet with coffee and biscuits, the group were treated to two short presentations by Claire Martinsen of Breckland Orchard – an inspirational ‘mumpreneur’ with a strong nose for opportunity – and Steven Flory of Hudson Signs – a former corporate ‘suit’ who is now carving out a new career as an entrepreneurial businessman in his own right.

While both speakers now operate in very different sectors, much of what they said carried a common theme.  Both, through sharing their own startup stories, highlighted how many successful businesses start out simply as an ‘idea’…. something you know can and will work, you just need to have the courage and commitment to lift it off the paper and turn it into reality.  Interestingly, both told tales of going with their gut instinct, often appearing to contradict the accepted way of doing things.  Looking back now, they could see where some decisions could be called into question – but, would they change anything?  The simple answer seemed to be ‘no’.  For Steven and Claire, it was all simply part of the journey that had made them the successful business owners they are today.  This point seemed to resonate strongly with the audience – you already know what is best for your business.  Have faith in your own judgement.

At the end of the session, Claire and Steven were asked what, if anything, would they throw money at if they were to start out in business again?  Both very firmly shared the same opinion – sales.  In their experience, no business could be a business without an orderbook and it was the one area that both had repeatedly focused on in their respective startups. In their own experience, they knew that money spent on websites, premises, branding and even personnel, was pointless unless you had the pipeline of firm sales to justify it.  Of course, this did mean that many decisions relating to the likes of branding and personnel had to be taken at the eleventh (sometimes twelfth!) hour, and both recounted some genuine laugh-out-loud anecdotes about the lengths they went to in order to deliver on a contract in super-quick time.  What this did mean, however, was that they quickly developed an ability to think laterally, to know who they could ask for help when they needed it and, most importantly, to focus wholeheartedly on honouring and closing that sale.

I, for one, found their honesty and willingness to share their experiences hugely refreshing.  Their tales of chasing down opportunities and (come what may) delivering on promises showed true entrepreneurial spirit.  It certainly kick-started my week with a  bang, and I’m sure I wasn’t alone.

If you want to find out more about what’s happening in your area, check out the GEW website.

And.. if you want to know what I do to help startups and entrepreneurs, please take a swing past my website, too.

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Networking is something which all good businesses do because they understand that it can provide a strategic, cost-effective route to market.  In today’s hyper-connected business world, it’s as much a case of what you know as who you know.  Being in the right place at the right time with the right people can open a multitude of otherwise apparently closed doors.

There is, however, a darker side to networking.  If not proactively managed this can be more detrimental to your business than not networking at all.  Attending events which ultimately do little for you or your business can equate to a complete and utter waste of time.   Time which could be best spent feeding your bottom line.

So, how do you ensure that your investment in networking delivers a boost to your business, as opposed to being a drain?


The answer is not rocket-science.  By simply investing some time in preparing for networking, you can ensure that the events you do attend bring real value to your business.  The choice is yours as to how you approach this.  As my experience is based on being the VA who does the legwork, here are some of the ways in which I have seen my clients get the most out of their networking.

1.  Identify and attend the right events for you:  The networking scene is positively buzzing with events and keeping track of what’s on, where and when, that might be of interest to you can be a task in itself.  Why not task your VA with researching and keeping a rolling list of up-coming events on particular themes?  You can then consult this summary list on a regular basis and decide which ones you wish to attend.  Save time by delegating the booking procedure to your VA, too.  Working with a rolling list, you can ensure that your networking allows you to attend a healthy ‘spread’ of events.  If one specific event proves particularly useful or interesting, your VA can be tasked with reminding you of when it recurs in the future.  If you miss an event which looked interesting, ask your VA to contact the organiser and request a copy of any slides, e-docs to be sent through to you.  

2.  Preparing for events:  It is quite common now for organisers to circulate the planned delegate list a few days prior to a networking event.  With some well-timed advance research your VA can furnish you with some additional details on those attending, allowing you to prioritise who you want to speak with.  In this way, you will ensure the conversations you have are relevant to you and your business.  Being able to demonstrate an insight or understanding of someone else’s business is a great way to introduce yourself and make a lasting impression. 

3.  Follow-up after events:  It is standard practice to exchange business cards at such events and it is important to make the best use of the information these contain.  When you receive a business card, suggest that you connect on social media and ask permission to register them in your database for your newsletter or blog.  The data entry can be done by your VA.  A nice touch will be to send out some company information, preferably in the form of a personal email.  All this can be prepared in advance by your VA so all you have to do following the event is decide who to send it to.  In your rolling list of networking events, ask your VA to keep a note of any important contacts against the event you met them at.  If you return to such an event in the future, you have the perfect excuse to get in touch again – and they will be impressed by both your memory and your attention to detail! 

4.  Know what’s hot:  New networking events are constantly being established and sometimes it’s good to freshen up your list.  Task your VA with researching specific areas which are of interest to you and finding out what other events are out there.  Social media is one way of doing this as many real-time groups also have online forums, too.   Browsing business directory websites can also prove fruitful.  Finally, if you’re away on business and know you will have some inevitable ‘dead time’, why not get your VA to look into and advise  networking events happening in that area?  You never know….

Regardless of which sector you operate in, by applying these tactics you can ensure that the events you attend deliver real value to your business.  Networking is not just about selling your wares, it’s about finding out more about what others sell, too.  Being prepared will allow you to circulate confidently at different events, helping raise your profile and leave a long and lasting impression with those you meet and speak with.

Happy networking!