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Desiree Ashton

doing the legwork, so you don't have to

Category Archives: Small Business

Pressed for time?  Here’s a quick overview of the services I offer:

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As summer approaches, the thoughts of many business owners turn to planning when and how to enjoy some well-earned down-time away from the pressing demands of work.  This month I’ve been meeting with a number of my clients to discuss how I will help them to shift down a gear over the summer period.

While some are planning a couple of weeks on a sun-drenched lounger, others are looking forward to a series of long weekends catching up with family and friends or indulging in a number of fun-packed city breaks.  In fact, one of my clients has just recently departed for a three-month adventure to the other side of the world.  For many business-owners this would be a mere fantasy, but through careful planning and logistics, she has made this once-in-a-lifetime journey possible… while still being fully in charge of her business.

For all my clients, being in two places at once is entirely possible.  A combination of detailed briefings, stringent diary management and scheduled check-ins via Skype and email means that I can be dealing with the day to day while they focus on relaxing.  Here are just some of the elements of their business which I will be fielding:

  • Mail and email
  • New business enquiries
  • Diary management
  • Client communications
  • Invoicing
  • Social media

None of these are rocket-science, but all of them contribute to being ‘present’ for their customers and offering a seamless service.

So, when you look at your holiday plans for the summer, how are you making sure you will be in two places at once?

If you would like to find out more or enquire about how I might help you, please get in touch.

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MagicWhen did you last have a great day at the office? Is it something you experience regularly, or is that ‘great day’ feeling proving somewhat elusive? If constant fire-fighting and the pressure of a weighty To Do list are draining your energies, take a moment to consider how a little out-sourcery might transform your days from tragic to magic again:

Start with the end in mind – Get your week off to a great start by creating a thorough To Do list. This will organise your thoughts and allow you to quickly identify which tasks can be cleared from your desk and given to your virtual PA.  Once your list is collated, a quick briefing call with your PA will be all that is needed to offload those niggle-some tasks, freeing you up to focus on the stuff that really matters.

Think ahead – What’s in your calendar for next week, the week after… next month? Are there meetings or events coming up which require some background preparation?  Do you need to read up on a prospective new client? Consider tasking your virtual PA with completing the necessary preparation for you. A well-timed overview of facts and figures, not to mention some links to interesting pre-reading, will ensure you are knowledgeable, prepared and considerably less stressed on the run-up to the event.

Make room for success – Business, like life, does not always go to plan.  Take another look at that To Do list… is there anything else you can delegate to your virtual PA which will allow you to create more time in your week?  By clearing space in your diary, you build a natural contingency which will allow you to react more effectively should something change for the worse or not go to plan ….. And if your week goes swimmingly, you now have a spare slot in your diary to enjoy doing something that feels good – an extended lunch, coffee with a friend, or even sitting down to map out your next venture!

Transforming your days from tragic to magic again means tackling the problem head on and your virtual support is ideally placed to help you do this.  Some well timed out-sourcery may be all that’s needed to help you get your sparkle back.  No magic or spells required!

If you would like to find out more about how I help my clients get more out of their day, please visit my website or get in touch: pa@desireeashton.com

If you have enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy my earlier posts on Improving Your Focus and Take Control of Your Diary.

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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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For those who run a small business, no two days are ever the same.  Over the course of a normal working day, a small business-owner may be asked to sport a number of different hats – everything from personnel management through to financial control… with a possible detour into the role of marketing in between.  While on the one hand, this presents variety and challenge and the need to ‘think on your feet’, on the other, it can result in a sense of distraction, interruption and loss of momentum.

Regardless of the admin solution a small business has in place, there will always be times when the ‘task in hand’ must be completed by you alone and must take precedence over all other activity, e.g. re-drafting a business plan, preparing for a meeting with prospective investors or reviewing important information relating to a client briefing.  At that point, you want to be able to switch efficiently and effectively into ‘focus’ mode, nail the task and then move smoothly on to the next thing.

For someone used to sporting many hats, this can be easier said than done.  However, there are some simple, common-sense steps that can be taken now which will mean that when required, this spontaneous switch is both seamless and easy to obtain.

Six simple ways to improve your focus:

1.  Get Comfortable – one of the most common causes of distraction is discomfort.  Invest in a good workstation to ensure that cramp and discomfort do not cause you to fidget or interrupt your flow.

2.  Tidy Up – keep your workstation clear of clutter.  File any stray notes and papers which might catch your attention and cause you to ‘wander’ from the task in hand.

3.  Organise – develop a robust and straight-forward filing system both on your computer and in your office.  Make it easy to find information – both for you and anyone who may be assisting on certain tasks.

4.  Automate Your Email – use folders to ensure that only the most pertinent information arrives in your inbox.  Automate all subscription emails to pre-named folders.  Create auto responder templates which you can easily switch on to advise those who contact you when you are in ‘focus’ mode that you are away from your desk and will be accessing your email again at a particular time.

5.  Make the Most of Voicemail – all phones have this, but how often do we use it to actively manage when and how we are contacted?  By using your voicemail service over key work periods, you can minimise unwanted interruptions.  A brief personal message advising that you are in a meeting and will be picking up calls again at a certain time still gives the respective caller an impression of having been ‘personally’ attended to.

6.  Manage Your To Do List – as you tick off your To Do list, update your ‘Done’ List.  Be aware of how much you are achieving and understand what this means for your business.  Remaining focused takes effort and is not simply about tick lists – by acknowledging progress, you will remain motivated too.

The simple secret to improving your focus is to organise, and the pointers listed above can help you do this.  Interruptions and distractions are a fact of working life.   By choosing to proactively manage these, you can create a day-to-day environment where you can switch effortlessly into a more focused workspace, as and when you need it.

Good luck!

If you find this post interesting and useful, you might also enjoy my posts on effective planning and outsourcing.

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When I first set out in business some 5 years ago, my decision to do so was fuelled by a desire to use my existing skills to support small businesses to reach their full potential.  All too often I had spoken with very bright and ambitious business owners who felt increasingly bogged down by the constant demands that running a small business entails.  They wanted someone trustworthy and reliable who they could ‘hand off’ to, while they invested some valuable time planning for and evaluating what their business was about to do next.  Since then, the tasks I have been assigned have been many and varied – everything ranging from bringing systems, templates and procedures into small businesses which have experienced rapid, organic growth, right through to assisting with research for those who are looking to dip their toe in the waters of a new market.  Each time, the business in question has found itself at a slightly complex crossroads in terms of where it might go next.  One thing I have learned is that, given the time and opportunity to think, most business owners are more than capable of coming to the right decision themselves.  All they need from me is the space and time to think.

Most recently, I have been working with two separate clients who have each tapped into my abilities to free up valuable thinking time – in very different ways.   For one, I have assumed responsibility for researching in greater depth some new ways of communicating with their existing client base.  For the other, I have been overseeing the background preparations for a relatively complex project which threatened to consume most of their working hours for the last three weeks.    As with many of the tasks which I undertake, these assignments were well within the capabilities of my clients’ own skill-sets.  What both understood, however, was that each respective task was time-consuming and labour-intensive, contributing little in terms of feeding their bottom line.

While I have operated in the background to minimise distractions and reduce noise from other areas of their business, each client has focused on the next project their business is  about to begin.  Rather than being harried, distracted and unprepared, they have invested the time and energy I have saved them into focusing on where they need to be this time next month, and how they are going to make sure they get there.

When you look at your diary for the coming weeks, how are you freeing up time to focus on what you do best?

If you would like to know more about the other ways I support my clients, please read my posts on Moving On Up and Networking.

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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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