It's easier than you might think to manage short- or long-term projects. Oh, I can hear the maniacal laughter coming through the ethers, but believe me, it's true! All it takes is organizational skills. Well, OK, organizational skills and time management. But anyone can do it if you get organized!
Think about your project - is it a series of tasks taking place over a period of time? Is it a one-time event with several aspects to manage? Who is involved? What is the timeline? (This is probably the most important part - write down the deadlines for each stage of planning.) Once you have the details written down, it's time to enter them into a spreadsheet. Excel has several templates you may want to look at (click on File/New and search on Project), you can use one I created, or create your own. Create columns titled with each category you're tracking. For example, contact information for the people involved, date of initial contact, date of followup, date of their response, what the response is, date final sent to person, etc. The columns for which you are responsible should contain the date ranges for the tasks you have to take care of. For instance, a column might say "initial email 10/1-10/7" and then the dates each email is sent in the column below that title.
As the project goes along, it's vital to keep the spreadsheet updated every single day. If you lose track of whether you talked to Joe Gomez about the catering, or whether Shelly Carroll called you back about your email, you might find yourself floundering. When I'm working on a project, I keep the spreadsheet open the entire time I'm working, and enter data every time something changes. Yes, it seems anal, and that's how I manage projects, but believe me, this kind of careful record-keeping is key to a successful and organized project. And key to sanity as well!
Another aspect to keep in mind is communication. If others are working on a project with you, be sure to categorize them as "need to know only," "decision maker," "partner," etc., and communicate regularly as needed for each of these roles. I've been on many projects in my career where a change was made that affected my work yet I was not told. Don't be that person! And expect communication from your staff in return. I communicate with my client often about the status of our project and where we stand.
I hope that this basic guide will get you started on ideas to simplify the next project you work on. If you find yourself overwhelmed, of course, I know a GREAT project management resource you can call on - Holly@LightseedsOffice.com!
Hopefully you just read this title and said "Whah????? Has Holly lost it?" If you didn't, I'm shocked! You can be the best writer, the most connected intuitive, the most accurate accountant, but if you can't proofread your work, you may not come across as the professional you are.
I have read online articles, websites, blogs, emails, and other forms of business communication written by authorities in their field, with important things to say, but their writings contain blatant errors. Granted I've missed a few in my own proofreading (hey, we're all human), but I am adamant about editing and proofing. Think about the two sentences below. Which would lead you to contact the writer for more information? Which presents the writer as a professional who knows what they're talking about?
1. Everybody has to profread what their writing so the customer's know they are professional.
2. Everybody has to proofread what they're writing so the customers know they are professional.
Well, obviously (it is obvious, isn't it?) the answer is #2. Many of us have forgotten the basic grade school grammar, sentence structure and vocabulary we used to be good at. Let's review!
Think about that word: networking. Thirty years ago, what exactly did that mean? Was the word as meaningful then in a world without personal computers? Now, in a business world where computer networks are crucial, it's important to understand that personal networks are important as well.
"No man [or woman] is an island." Nearly every sort of work we do requires a relationship with others. You can write a book alone, but you need others to buy it. You can work on a computer alone, but you need clients. After working for many years in Corporate America where it was my superiors [I don't like that word - we're all equals - but you know what I mean] who networked with others in their field. Once I became self-employed, I was a bit out of my experience in learning how to network with others who might need my skills or might know someone else who does. I have never enjoyed sales and was uncomfortable with the idea of "selling" my administrative services. What I discovered, much to my surprise, was that by attending functions with other business people, I could not only increase awareness of my own work, but hear about all sorts of wonderful entrepreneurship and ideas going on in my city, and it was the education, the sharing that created potential clients, not selling.
Social media has become a great way to meet others, for business relationships or for skill exchanges, however LinkedIn, Facebook, etc. are two-dimensional. You can educate others but your conversations are flat, with little personality behind them. We all know that for business (or any) relationship to grow we need to like each other, and that can only be accomplished face to face. We must learn to follow up our online meetings with personal contact - meet for lunch or coffee, attend Meetup or Chamber meetings, and so on. Even if you are shy of meeting new people, it's vital to form personal relationships to foster the business relationships. In needing to sell myself as the end product and have people like and trust me, it was my conversations and relationship-building that netted results.
I encourage you [good word . . ."en-courage" . . . to instill courage] to think about your friends, family and business associates as the knots in a great net of potential clients. Each knot leads to another thread which leads to another knot. Follow the threads, and network your way to success. And of course, if you need help uncovering your network, I know a great administrative / research assistant who'd love to help you - Holly@LightseedsOffice.com!
Is there a Land of the Paper Mountain? For a lot of folks, they visit that mountain every day - it's on their desk! Don't set fire to it - put it away! Oh stop complaining, you can do it, I know that you can. Here, I'll help.
I offered some tips in an earlier blog about file management on your computer. It's the same principle on paper, except that you have to have a place to put paper. First step? Um, get a place to put the paper. Duh. Depending on the size of your mountain, buy a file cabinet, get one of the many organizational systems in office supply stores, or if you must, use boxes. You'll need hanging file folders and manila or colored folders too. If you want to get fancy, buy yourself some folder labels to write or type on. One thing you can't buy - patience! It's an easy task, but it does take time.
So now take a deep breath. Get a piece of paper and think about the major categories of things you need to file, whether you're a business or you're handling home filing. For example: Building/House, Utilities, Insurance, Warranties, Car, Computer, Taxes, Telephone, Legal, etc. Each of those categories is your major division point. Think then about what goes into each of those. For building or house (business or home), you'll want a file for maintenance, roof, snow removal, plumbing (structural, repairs, etc), electrical (likewise), and any other topics for which you have paperwork. These are all items that need to be taken care of for the structure, the operations of your business. Obviously you'll have more or less, or entirely different categories than what I'm listing.
For Utilities, you'll want the actual monthly invoices. You can split them into categories if you wish - it depends on how many records you have to manage. For Computer, perhaps instruction manuals, warranty information, receipts, etc. You get the idea. Go through each major category and write down the subdivisions that make sense to you.
After you have this figured out, get a hanging file folder and label it with one of your major categories. Label the manila folders with the subdivisions and put them in the hanging folder. Go through and get all your files made and put away.
Now the fun! No, put down the matches - I told you we're NOT having Filing Flambe! Take the top piece of paper on the mountain and decide where it goes. Is it a letter about an inspection? Is it a paid utility bill? Is it a special offer for travel? Put it in the appropriate place. Rinse......repeat. If you go through everything that's loose around the office (or home) and categorize it this way, you'll find that the mountain has indeed become a molehill!
Now of course the key is to maintain order. Promptly file all paid bills you need to keep. Put away new reference manuals or equipment information as soon as you get them. If you keep on this weekly (or less often if you have less paper) you'll have an orderly office all the time.
I've seen files that were labeled with the name of the item within it. I've seen files that were too general. I've seen files that make sense only to the person who set them up. The key, especially in a business setting, is that by using the kind of sorting I've described, absolutely anyone can find what they need.
As always, if you just can't handle it and need someone to come to the mountain, I know a fabulous, ORGANIZED assistant who can help you: Holly@LightseedsOffice.com!
Microsoft Excel can be a fabulous tool, whether you're adept at computers or not. Many folks think it's only for bookkeeping and accounting. Not so! Excel was designed to easily manipulate data, and that's exactly what I use it for. Numbers, of course, are a form of data, but so are names and addresses, dates, product descriptions, and any other item you can think of that needs to be tracked and organized.
If you go to my page Free Forms, you'll find quite a few Excel spreadsheets I've designed over the years, and you'll see what I mean. Excel is the Swiss army knife of software programs! You can calculate, sort, filter, track, and otherwise manipulate all sorts of data. Try it for yourself: open Excel and try typing in column A a list of family members' names, just for fun. Drag your mouse pointer over all the names you've entered - you'll see the shading change and a box appear around them. Go to the top right of your toolbar - click on Sort and Filter, then on Sort A to Z. See what happens? You've just alphabetized your names - GO YOU!
Go to my free forms and open one. Try the Contact Database for instance. I've already set up the column headings (they'll always be named Columns A-ZZZ, but you can make column headers like I did). Every entry you make will go down in rows 1-65,000 (and more if you need more!). Play around with it by entering data in all the columns - real or made up. Test the tools in the toolbar at the top to see what they do. You can format (i.e. set up) any cell (the box that marks the intersection of a row and column) in any way you wish - text, %, $, phone number, and much more.
I use Excel for my contact database, for event tracking, invoicing, product sales, budget sheet, and more. You can use the free forms I designed, or in Excel, click on File/New and look at the wide variety of forms Microsoft offers you, also free. All you have to do is enter your own data and see what you can do. All the templates you find will help organize your working life so you don't lose track of information.
Microsoft offers wonderful free tutorials on their website here. Between all the free templates and the tutorials, you'll get a handle on how to use this all-purpose tool. But remember, if you want customized training, get a group together and contact me at Holly@LightseedsOffice.com - I'm happy to give your group a class!
Since its launch in 2004, Facebook has taken over the world of social networking. Every time you post on your wall, you are marketing yourself, your likes and dislikes, and your activities to those you have marked as friends. Now that we can communicate instantly with enormous groups of people instantly, we need to be aware of the benefits of using Facebook as a marketing tool for our products and services.
If you are using Facebook as a true marketing too, which is the topic of this writing, then you want the publicity Facebook can generate. All business / group / event pages are public, which means that anyone can view them at any time. Internet searches for keywords contained in your pages will come up in search results, and friends can refer them to other friends without your knowledge. But this is the whole point of marketing - getting the word out to the general public about your products and services.
Because Facebook has become its own network, its own mini-internet, it has become as valuable a resource for information and services as the World Wide Web. If you're in the market for a anything from a mattress to a mover, a service or a celebrity, you can find it on Facebook. Keep this in mind when developing your business profile.
The key to effective Facebook marketing is regular postings. It won't do you much good to set up a business page but never post anything on it, as if you had placed an ad in a newspaper that nobody reads. Informative, related and timely postings on a business page will generate interest in you and your business. The information contained on your business profile is also important: it should be concise but explicit about what you offer, and should contain good quality photos. The category in which you are listed (business, group, public figure, etc) and sub-categories are also important.
If you have a blog, sign up for Networked Blogs, a free social media function which links a blog website with your Facebook account (or Twitter or other social media). Such cross-referencing will increase your visibility on the web and increase your exposure.
Once your public profile has been created, be sure to invite all your personal Facebook friends to visit and "like" your new page. It's easy to switch from writing in your personal profile to your business one. Simply click on the small arrow to the right of your "Home" page at the top of the menu, and click on "use Facebook as page."
Through Lightseeds Office I'll be teaching a class soon on how to create business profiles. I plan to offer the class resources as an online tool as well. Keep watch on www.LightseedsOffice.com or on Facebook for announcements. As always, I know a great resource to help you develop your Facebook business presence - Holly@LightseedsOffice.com!
Okay, calm down - I can hear some of you cringing from all the way over here! So many people hate lists, feel they're kind of anal. Then there are those who are addicted to lists, making lists of lists. But lists are only good if you USE them - making lists that get lost on a cluttered desk are useless (you know who you are..... ;) ).
I've talked before about prioritizing, and a list (ONE list) can help you do just that. They can remind you of ongoing tasks and urgent ones and will help organize your time. I know several people who sit down to get organized, write out a list of tasks they want to accomplish, then get distracted by something else. As with so much I've talked about in this blog, it's about self-discipline. No, I don't mean extreme control; I mean sticking to your guns and doing what you promised yourself (or others) you would do.
For me, I find it easiest to write the most important and/or the item with the soonest deadline at the top, and go down in urgency. Sometimes I'll brainstorm and write down all sorts of things I choose to get done, then go back over it and number the priorities. Right now my lists consists of writing this blog, updating my Facebook page, contacting a couple of new clients, doing some marketing, writing a workshop I intend to hold soon, and read some articles I've downloaded. Having a list by my computer helps keep me focused on items that really do need to be done, while also including ongoing projects (like uploading articles to a website, or data entry into a social media uploader) so I don't forget about them.
I know someone who grabs the nearest piece of paper to write herself a note or a phone number, then ends up with reams of paper scattered all over. She gets frustrated with herself, when a simple solution would be to only use a pad of paper so that everything remains together. Avoid the temptation to be distracted by things outside your window, or seeing what's happening on Facebook, or a great new idea. Stick to the "to-do's" for an allotted period of time each working day, using only ONE list, and ONE pad of paper. You'll find your time much more manageable.
And of course, if your list is entirely too long, I know a great organizer who could help you de-clutter it......Holly@LightseedsOffice.com!
When I decided to go into business for myself, I knew that to create awareness of my skills and to get clients, I needed to have a website. In general, the days of yellow pages and classified ads are antiquated - today most searches for businesses are done on line. However when anyone decides to take the step toward self-employment, they may not have much start-up capital, and likewise not a great deal of technical expertise to do it themselves. There are abundant resources now to make this important step easier.
There are many free website systems online, including the one this website is created with - Weebly.com. Google, Yahoo, WordPress, and many others, like Weebly, provide a variety of designs and options to choose from. The amount of customization varies depending on whether you choose a free or paid version, and the domain name (the www.blahblah.com part) will vary. If you have a basic knowledge of software, for instance a familiarity with MS Word or Publisher, you can create attractive websites yourself. You will need to determine a business name so you can choose a domain name - there are resources online to help you with this, like GoDaddy.com, www.domainsuperstar.com and more.
However the physical creation of a website is not enough: what do you fill the site with? What do you write about yourself, and HOW do you write it? That's where a third party is important. Here's how I work when I create a website for a business.
We write down all the keywords we can think of to describe a business. Let's imagine a massage therapist startup: keywords might include relaxing, therapeutic, healing, expert, certified, licensed, compassion, professional ....and so forth. We write down the vision for the business, the mission, the goal. We write the steps we determine will lead to that goal. We gather pictures, and testimonials from people who have experienced what the person does. In other words, we get ALL our material together. Not only do you want details about your business, but about you as well, giving an impression of your personality.
Consider the pages you'll need: a HOME page with the basic overview of what the business or topic is. Then an "about" or "bio" or some such, which is a short resume of your experience and why they should buy from you. A services / products / store page. A testimonials page, and photos if appropriate. Start writing a draft on each page using some of the keywords you determined. After you get the basics written you can go in and flesh them out with more details. Remember that the information should be clear, concise and to the point.
Most website systems online offer you a way to include keywords, categories and other Search Engine Optimization (SEO) options. If you are doing a website yourself, you probably don't have SEO experience, but this is the aspect of a website that makes it visible on search engines like Google. The better SEO information, the better traffic to your site.
The MOST IMPORTANT aspect of the website, in my opinion, is the professionalism. If you have typos or grammatical errors, or if your content is not clear, then your work ethic and skills may not be as obvious as if the site were correctly written. This is where the third party really comes in handy - have a second set of eyes look over everything before publishing to the web. A clear, informative and professional website will convey the message you want the world to see.
Is all this intimidating? I know a great resource to help you! Holly@LightseedsOffice.com!
It's a common scenario today: laid off from a position, finding alternative ways to gain income, deciding to work for myself. Okay, great, decision made. Now what? What do I do? Well, a good place to start is to list all the things you're good at: fixing cars, comforting the elderly, working with animals, gardening, tailoring, whatever. List everything you can think of, no matter how silly it seems! When done, go back over your list and realize that this list is your resume for your new career!
I did it, and I know others who did as well. I realized that I have a valuable skill that others need and will pay for. Think about it - if you have a great affinity for the elderly, look online for opportunities to use that skill. Get any training you may need, donate or barter your services to get in the door, and opportunities for being paid will arise. Love to garden? Market your skills to neighbors who hate working outdoors. Be creative and you'll be amazed at the ideas that will come to you.
So, you've come up with your list and have a great idea you want to pursue. Ask friends and family for advice on how to market your skill set. Use all the free marketing available through social networking, through groups and associations, clubs and social events. As your excitement grows the momentum will create a client base for you. And then you'll realize that you need to organize the business aspects of this new career! You'll need a website, brochures, business cards. Client databases. Facebook/MySpace/LinkedIn pages. Computer files and organization. Plus many other details to get up and running. Don't worry, you're not on your own - consider looking into a virtual assistant to provide help.
One of the fastest growing home businesses today is that of virtual assistance. A "VA" can provide a startup company with all sorts of resources: marketing and websites, scheduling and organizing, record keeping and writing. There are dozens of resources online. You may find someone in your neighborhood who could work with you live, or you may find a specialist to help you online. With the internet and various networking tools like shared calendars and file sharing sites, you do not need to be physically together to get the work done. And the joy of using a VA is that you only pay for the time spent on your work. If you can afford an hour a week, that's fine! If you want to start the business quickly, get someone for 40 hours for two weeks. Whatever it takes, a VA can do.
Take charge of your career and your life, make your list, and contact Lightseeds Office today! Holly@LightseedsOffice.com
You all know the answer to that - "One bite at a time"! Granted I'd never harm an elephant but it's a fitting metaphor. We have all reached points where a project becomes so big it's overwhelming. Whether it's organizing a file cabinet, office or closet, cleaning out the basement or garage, tackling a major work project, you may quit before you start because you're intimidated by not being able to decide where to start. The answer is very simple: pick something!
For instance, if I'm helping a client organize a cluttered office, I will simply pick up a pile and begin sorting through it, making stacks by category - mail, filing, receipts, correspondence, what have you. Then I'll pick up another pile and continue organizing it. Yes, I'm moving paper from one stack to another, but the key is that the new piles are ORGANIZED! Once all the messy piles are sorted and trash recycled, then I can go through the new stacks and file, process, or do whatever else needs to be done. The key, of course, is keeping up with it. Developing the discipline to spend even a few minutes at the beginning or end of every day will make great strides in keeping clutter under control.
Same goes for cleaning a closet or basement or any other project. Rather than stew about it, just pick an area and start. You will be amazed at how good it feels. The shift in your energy from "I can't do this!!" to "look what I accomplished" will be all the motivation you need to continue.
And if you still can't face it, I know a great organizer you can call on - Holly@LightseedsOffice.com!
Welcome! These stories, tips and tricks are intended to help you save time, and be more organized and effective in your work. New items will be added frequently so check back often.