Welcome!

I hope you find my writing and business tips and observations useful. My business and blog are dedicated to helping businesses communicate clearly and reach their potential. Read, subscribe to my newsletter, enjoy! Tash

Refer to older posts…

Blogging services

plan

Planning future communications

It’s the last day of the month and almost the end of a financial year so it seems an appropriate time to think about planning. In particular, planning your communications efforts for the next six to twelve months.

Last June, I wrote a newsletter article about some of the advantages of preparing a communications calendar. (Yes, this is the promised reference to old content!)

For people who like to be impulsive and don’t like plans, a communications schedule may seem a little restrictive – I mean, if you have rigid rules in place, you can’t decide on a new spring campaign just because the smell of flowers inspires you, can you?

I disagree (and I personally am not fond of too many rules and structures either!) as a comms calendar should be a plan, not a hard and fast schedule. So if inspiration strikes, you do a spring campaign instead of whatever you had planned for September. Or if a major event or industry changes occur, you adjust your approach to suit. You still have control. And get to be creative.

planning year of dragon communications

Grab the Dragon's power by planning

For the routine comms items, though, having them prepared ahead of time actually frees up more time and mental energy to be creative and proactive.

Have you avoided something like a comms plan because you prefer to be creative and ‘go with the flow’? I’d love to hear your experiences when you do (or did) try planning your comms ahead of time.

Managing website design 101

Unless you are a web designer, I strongly recommend you do not design your own website.

Yes, software is fairly easily available to make it possible, but don’t let that fool you into thinking anyone can design a decent (let alone good) website. Website design is more than choosing colours and putting the content on a page with a few links to a shopping cart or a blog. Even a good eye for design may not be enough as websites have specific requirements as well as coding issues.

And doing it yourself isn’t likely to be cheaper either. It may not cost you in terms of paying an invoice, but it will take a lot hours that you can’t invoice for and a low quality result can cost you in customers.

Enough of the negatives, and on to how to manage your design (or redesign)…

  1. know your brand and make the design suit it. Have a sedate and professional brand? Don’t get a young and funky web design as it will clash.
  2. think about what you want on the site in the longer term. You may be happy with five basic pages now with the expectation of adding a blog and forum in six months or so – include those expectations in the design brief so they are easy to add later without needing a new design.
  3. choose your designer carefully – there is a huge array of designers from those who overcharge and under deliver to those who give great results at a value price. We’ll look at this in my next ‘getting your business online’ post, or look at my tips on choosing suppliers
  4. while standing out by being different can be an effective marketing strategy, remember that some differences are a hindrance. For example, putting a menu in a strange place, not underlining hyperlinks and cute or clever alternatives to ‘submit’ and ‘buy’ buttons may confuse people and push them away form your site – colour backgrounds may look nice, too, but if people find the text hard to read the nice colour is hurting your site
  5. put humans first and search engines second – search engine optimisation (SEO) is an important part of attracting people to your site but no one will stay if you haven’t also considered a human’s needs on a website.
  6. keep important information visible and easy to find. For example, if you want people to call you, don’t just have your phone number in the footer – make it prominent high on the page
  7. plan the navigation carefully – this can be the hardest and most time consuming step for you but it is important enough to warrant being done thoroughly. Discuss your plan with your designer, content writer and anyone else involved in the project as their expertise may spot weaknesses
  8. make sure your design complements your other business materials. If I was given your business card or flyer and am interested enough to follow through by typing in a URL, I expect to see something similar when I reach your site. If your site is heading in a new direction, update the supporting materials ASAP
  9. increasingly, people are accessing websites via mobile devices. Sites can be designed to suit mobile devices now so incorporate that into any new site – if you’re going online, you may as well be online for everyone!
  10. be wary of using templates, especially free templates. If the finished product looks like some text placed into a template people have seen 50 times before, your website is not communicating much of benefit (it says cheap, unprofessional, lazy, boring and uninspiring  – is that what you want your site to say about your business?) On the other hand, a template adapted to your needs can be effective and cheaper than a custom design – it’s a matter of balance. Make sure you get a template that allows you to change background and font colours, images, header height and the like and, most importantly, lets you decide on the number of menu items showing.
  11. communicate with your designer frequently and honestly. Insist on seeing drafts and giving feedback on what you do and don’t like, and ask questions about why something is done in certain ways – if the designer has a good reason you may be best to leave it alone, but things based on designer preferences can change to your customers’ tastes.
  12. test the site before you approve it – search for relevant information and be sure someone could find it, look at it on different browsers and screens, click on links to be sure they work, and make sure any tools work properly (shopping carts, search boxes, subscription forms, etc)
What other tips do you have for managing the web design of a new site?

 

This post is part of Word Constructions’ Setting up a website series
1. having a website helps more than you
2. what’s involved in setting up a website?
3. Learn about web hosting
4. Preparing your initial website content

Making school essay writing easy!

While a school essay is not the same as writing for a business or website, I wanted to recommend this great blog post I just read about writing school essays.

The post is aimed at parents trying to help students learn about writing a good essay – and it gives good tips (like SEXI paragraphs!)

Many of the concepts can also be carried into other forms of non-fiction writing. For instance, planning what you will put in a promotional article, blog post, report, flyer or similar still saves a lot of time and worry.

Have a read of their post and let me know what you think…


SEXI paragraphs contain:

Statement
Explanation
eXample
Importance

Risk acknowledgement

How often do you consider the risk of running a business?

As much as we’d love business to be about profits and perhaps doing what we love, there are also risks to running a business and ignoring those risks can lead to all sorts of problems. Acknowledging risks, however may mean yu can reduce the likelihood of them occurring and allow you to plan ahead to make dealing with a risk easier.

Here are some risks you may want to look at for your business:

Take 30 minutes…

If you suddenly found yourself with an extra 30 minutes, what would you do with your time? Would you waste it, fill it with the ordinary or do something different?old fashioned stopwatch sitting on a keyboard

Chris Brogan and many people in his blog community gave some ideas on filling an unexpected half hour in order to make use of their ‘spare time’. Some of my favourites on the list are relaxing (meditating, walking, etc), a quick burst of filing or tidying, give some recommendations/referrals, contact people on a personal level (it can be a business contact, but chat to them instead of always focussing on what has to be done) and catching up on some reading/learning.

Moving on from that list, I like the idea of making half an hour a day for these sorts of tasks. Maybe start your day with them, lift the ‘low’ times around lunchtime or finish off the working day, but make a time to do some little tasks.

Why? Those little tasks can be very important – to your calmness, clarity, happiness, productivity, relationships and creativity. And doing them regularly for a short time will keep things under control.

I’m going to give it a try, now that I’ve been inspired. Could you benefit from making 30 minutes a day, too?

Measuring your business…

I just came across a blog post about why you need to measure performance which seems like a good starting point for all small business owners.

It’s a good question – I mean, if you don’t measure your success in various areas of your business, how do you know you are actually succeeding? Or how will you know that there is a so-far-minor problem in one area before it turns into a major issue for you and your business?

Yes, it is important to keep on top of where you are at in all areas of business, but I liked the suggestion in this blog post that it is better to start monitoring one or two key areas now than to wait “until I have enough time” to set up measuring programs for everything important to your business.

Why start small with your measuring when the whole picture is so important?

  • it is easier to do so it’s more likely to actually happen!
  • starting with one area will teach you skills and make a wider scale measurement easier later
  • data in one area can be dealt with – once that area is working well, you can focus on another area. Compare that to trying to fix 6 areas at once whilst also trying to manage clients and general business tasks
  • improving one thing often has a flow on effect to other areas anyway
  • you’ll gain confidence and belief in measuring that will inspire you to make time for more over time

So my question is – how often do you measure your business performance? Which area do you think most needs assessment right now?

Crucial planning ahead for problems

Contingency planning and being prepared are important steps for a business owner – but steps that are not urgent so can easily be left behind in the day to day busyness of business and making a profit.

I was reminded of this topic today when I read an article called ‘When bad stuff happens’ – being about small business owners needing to think ahead to potential problems. And having procedures in place to cope when problems do arise.

Back in 1999, I had a contract to prepare some contingency plans for a major Australian company. We did various things, but one key task was preparing a checklist and contingency plan for the morning of 1 January 2000 – the day computers were going to fail and planes fall from the sky! The checklist included things such as ‘turn on a light switch. If it doesn’t work, try a second switch. If it still doesn’t work, look at neighbouring buildings and street lights – do they have power?’ We thought ahead and gave staff options to get all the information before emergency procedures were put into place.

So what sort of things do you need procedures for in your business? Obviously, that depends on your business, but some simple procedures you could start with are:

  • make sure someone else has a list of key contacts in case you are suddenly out of action. For example, my key clients and contacts are on a list with my husband so they would not be left wondering about me if I disappeared for a while
  • give someone else access to your PO box, or at least permission to get your mail redirected
  • prepare a list of essential business passwords so someone else can manage things – for instance, passwords for your blog, email and online shop administration
  • if you send out products, writing a procedure on how to package and send them is crucial for another person to be able to pick it up for you
  • if you are a service provider, establish some relationships now so there are people you can refer clients to or outsource work to if you can’t complete promised work
  • give your bookkeeper, accountant or a trusted person the means to be able to complete IAS/BAS statements for you, including how to pay any tax owing, so you avoid fines and problems with the ATO while you are ill or unavailable
  • prepare some standard responses to emails so the same message can be sent out even in your absence. Think about adding some of that common information to your website, too, to reduce how many people ask the same question – much easier for someone trying to fill in for you, but also a great time saver for you in the mean time!

If you start implementing some of these plans into your business, I’d love to hear about it – although I hope it never becomes necessary to use the procedures for a negative problem (using them because you win a trip around the world is a different story!)

Use your words and time wisely!

Business flexibility or constraints?

Obviously, there are many reasons behind people starting up a business rather than being an employee. But a common reason, or support for another reason, is the desire for flexibility.

I have heard “I hate working 9 to 5 so I started my own business” or words to that affect a number of times. And yet those same people may well find that running a business requires more than 8 hours a day, 7 days a week to be a success.

Valerie Khoo not only discusses this issue but gives some good tips on how to plan flexibility into your businessin a blog post last month. I think her most important point is the planning – you need to know what flexibility you want (or need) and then plan the business around that.

For example, one flexibility I want is to be able to go on school excursions with my daughters, especially while they are young enough to be excited by my presence! Therefore, I do not claim to be available during all business hours and my regular clients know I sometimes work at nights or weekends instead of during traditional business hours. One client had a deadline for an article last week when I was at the zoo so we agreed he could call me at the zoo and I would talk him through any technical issues. Flexibility.

I would find it much harder to go on excursions if I had a traditional office where people were encouraged to drop in for meetings.

Sometimes a compromise will be necessary to achieve the desired flexibility. For example, to only work 3 days a week you may have to accept earning less than if you worked 5 days a week or accept having staff or outsourcing more.

If you run a business, from home or elsewhere, do you have the flexibility you expected when you started? Would you like more flexibility in your life to do things other than business?

I would suggest you plan your ideal week, business and personal combined, and see how far it is from reality then look for ways you can move closer to the ideal.

Use your time wisely!

Personal or professional development

I remember some years ago, all employers had to provide training for all of their employees. Yes, some employers and employees didn’t take it seriously and some silly courses may have been undertaken, but I still like the concept of people constantly learning.

As an employer, training staff means they are learning and growing so will be able to their jobs better, and they will respect and value the fact that you care enough to provide such training.

Kylie at Tilda Virtual wrote about the importance of setting a training/development goal and sticking to it, and asked what our goals are in this area for 2008.

To be honest, I haven’t developed a training plan as such for myself. I am going to the Business Mums Conference in July, I read business blogs/magazines/blogs/articles when I can, and I look out at networking and other business events for ones that are relevant to me. Oh, and I am working towards my certificate IV in business (frontline management) and certificate IV in leadership support later in the year, although that has more to do with being a cub leader than a business owner!

Of course, the information I learn about each client, their business and sometimes their industry is development for me, too, but much harder to plan (who knows what industry my next new client will work in!) and not always directly transferable to other work I do.

But there has never been a rule that says business owners must provide training and development opportunities for themselves… And yet this is the group who probably has to cope with the largest number of tasks in different areas.

Kylie has me thinking now, so I will make some time to think of what skills I can and will develop this year. I know I won’t put a huge amount of time into training this year with a baby on the way, client work and family commitments!

How about you? Have you planned any personal development this year? Have you timetabled for it so it won’t slip aside when more urgent tasks arise?