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Desiree Ashton

doing the legwork, so you don't have to

Tag Archives: growth

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

If you would like a no-obligation discussion of your requirements, 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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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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As the colder weather and darker evenings mark the end of another year, December is often a time when I meet with my clients to review what has been achieved in the last 12 months and draft an outline plan regarding where and how I will support them in the coming year.

Despite working across very different sectors, planning ahead and being prepared has always been an approach which is shared by all my clients.  Many have enjoyed very senior positions within the corporate sphere so know the value of investing time in identifying where and how they can continue to grow their business and plan resource and personnel to support that.

This annual process of forward-planning highlights my clients’ understanding of the importance of targeted delegation.   Their collective aim for 2012 is to free up their time, so that they can focus on activities which build their business and feed their bottom line.  What they delegate to me will vary, depending on the nature and stage of their business, but each task has been thought-through to ensure that it is ‘SMARTER’:

SPECIFIC –  Tasks and sub-tasks are clearly listed. Verbal instructions are supported by a written summary.

MEASURABLE – Markers for ‘completion’ are agreed, milestones for larger projects are identified and diarised.

ACHIEVABLE – Current, available resources are reviewed and additional expertise/personnel are sourced, if required.

REALISTIC – Turn-around times and handover dates are agreed.

TIME-BOUND – On-going / open-ended tasks are assigned ‘check-in’ points, to review progress.

ETHICAL – Tasks are sense-checked for compliance with industry ‘best-practice’ and regulation.

RECORDED – Tasks and progress are recorded by both parties for summary review at the end of the year.

By following a set formula for delegating to virtual support, my clients create a working arrangement which allows them to spend time on their business, rather than in it.  My task list for 2012 already promises a variety of projects, touching on customer communications, social media, marketing and business development.  An exciting year!

When you look ahead to 2012, how are you forward-planning for your all-star year?

If you’d like to know more about how I might help you achieve your plans for 2012, please visit my website or 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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One of the most common calls to action I receive is when a small business is looking to upscale.

For any business, being able to seize an opportunity to grow can provide a springboard for the next phase of business development.  The dilemma which presents itself, and which can cause smaller businesses to hold back at that critical life-changing moment, is sometimes centred on the simple matter of ‘resource’.  To take on a larger-than-normal project will possibly mean putting existing personnel and systems under increased strain.  Perhaps the procedures which are currently in place are not regarded as robust enough to deal with the sudden increase in ‘noise’ or ‘traffic’ that this potential project might generate.

So, how does the business which finds itself faced with such an opportunity react?

I recently worked with a client who took a very conscious decision to seize such an opportunity and upscale.  Having successfully tendered for and won a contract to deliver a high-profile project to a national organisation, there were several key areas which they knew would need added focus and targeted resource.

Working closely with my client, we agreed that there were 5 main areas where I would offer support:

  • Project plan – using project management software to keep track of progress and ensure that key milestones were met.
  • Team logistics – co-ordinating communications and travel plans across an extended team to ensure that personnel were in the right place at the right time with the right equipment and materials (and knew what to do with them!).
  • Document control – ensuring that all the appropriate templates, reports and presentations were drafted, formatted, uploaded, printed and delivered to where they needed to be, when they needed to be there.
  • Invoicing – tracking inbound and outbound payments to ensure there were no discrepancies, delays or anomalies which might interrupt the smooth-running of the programme.
  • Client communications – providing an additional contact-point for my client’s customers, ensuring that emails were processed and queries answered – because even in the midst of their busiest period, keeping in close contact with all their customers was still of utmost importance to them.

As the project gained momentum it became apparent that the support which I offered in one area could also extend to other smaller projects which were running concurrently with this one.  And so, I became involved in supporting those, too.  When the larger project came to an end, I spent some additional time with my client, tending to small house-keeping tasks such as securing testimonials and writing up case studies detailing the different outputs from the project concerned.

The time came for me to step back from my day-to-day involvement with the business and as I did so, my client and I took stock of our achievement.   Not only had my client been able to gain stretch and reach new potential in terms of competency and capability, every member of the team had, too.  Fuelled by the experience of operating at a new level, my client is now confidently chasing their next exciting opportunity.   They are, in every sense, moving on up.

So, the next time you sense a new opportunity on your horizon, what will you do?

More information on the various services I provide to my clients can be found on my website

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