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Desiree Ashton

doing the legwork, so you don't have to

Tag Archives: small business

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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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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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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