Business News Daily

*This article was originally published in Business News Daily

Are there so many tasks on your to-do list that you barely have time to focus on your business? If so, it might be time to think about hiring a virtual assistant.

Whether it’s a single person dedicated to working with your business or a service that provides assistance on an as-needed basis, a virtual assistant (VA) can free you from administrative tasks and let you focus on what you do best. By hiring a remote worker, you can get the help you need without the expenses associated with a full-time, in-house employee.

If you’re thinking about utilizing a VA for your business, here are a few tips for successfully finding and working with one.

Know who they are

Business owners commonly hire VAs for tasks like public relations, social media and other customer-facing duties. If you’re going to entrust someone with your brand, the first step is to make sure you trust that person.

“Personality is important,” said Diana Ennen, founder of Virtual World Publishing. “You want a VA who you get along with and feel comfortable trusting with your business information. It’s OK to get testimonials and check references.”

If you’re hiring an assistant through a staffing firm or service provider, be sure to read his or her reviews and get samples of past work when applicable.

Make sure they understand your business

Every VA has a different background and skill set, so you’ll want to find one who is familiar with the type of work you do.

“You want to make sure that the VA understands your business and the way you work,” said Jennette Pokorny, chief operating officer of human resources service provider EverNext HR. “Having to train a VA in your business should not be your focus. Interview the VA or company you are hiring as you would an in-house employee. Ask yourself: ‘Do they fit my needs? Do they understand my industry? Do they have the experience in the areas I will use them in?’”

Work out payment options up front

A VA service provider will often have a set price for hiring their assistants, but if you’re working with a freelance VA, you’ll have to work out a payment system. Hourly rates may seem like the easiest solution, but because VAs work remotely, tracking exactly what they’re doing each hour can be difficult.

“Paying hourly is usually a downfall for everyone,” said Lis Dingjan, founder of branding and Web development firm The Identity. “It doesn’t encourage your VA to work efficiently, since some tasks only take a few minutes, and will create a frustrating work relationship. Package things up and [set a price] for batch tasks if possible.”

Regardless of your pay structure, make sure you’re getting the best service for the price. Ennen noted that cheaper isn’t always better.

“The more skilled VAs can be more expensive, but they are worth it,” she told Business News Daily. “Know what you can afford, and look for an assistant who meets your needs.”

Be mindful of their schedules

As with any remote employee, time-zone differences can impact the way you and your VA work together. Business coach Yoon Cannon noted that if an assistant lives in another time zone, you should verify that they’re able to respond to you during your working hours.

Another factor to keep in mind is that you are likely not the only business with which an assistant is working. It’s important to respect the fact that, like regular employees, your VA has other obligations outside of your tasks.

“Remember that VAs are not your employees,” said Jackie Gernaey, CEO of the New York chapter of business coaching service provider The Alternative Board. “They may have competing schedules with other clients.”

Communicate clearly

Communication is key to any successful business relationship, and this is especially true with VAs. Explaining yourself thoroughly via digital means of communication can sometimes be difficult, but it’s necessary to ensure that your assistant is carrying out his or her tasks properly.

“If a VA doesn’t complete your task successfully, it is often due to you not explaining the task clearly enough,” said entrepreneur and business consultant Nate Ginsburg.

“Your own delegation and communication skills play an important role in creating a successful outcome with your VAs,” Cannon added. “Take the few extra minutes to be super clear and specific in all your communications.”

Originally published on Business News Daily.

Chamber of Commerce Magazine

*This article was originally published in Chamber of Commerce Magazine

W4 Magazine, Chamber of Commerce – Budget Friendly Strategies to Grow Your Business

According to Bucks County.org, most Bucks County area businesses are small (less than 3 people). And while the economy is starting to gain traction, business owners are looking with cautious optimism toward the future. They’re not making any hurried decisions.

The turning economic climate, however, is not a time for staying in your comfort zone. It is still critical that businesses are careful to make wise, strategic business decisions that often require small business owners to get out of their comfort zones.

If you’re like most business owners, you are so busy focusing on the daily tasks of running the business that it’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture. Yet, if you don’t take the time to work ON your business plan for future growth, it’s all too easy to go in circles rather than accomplishing the tasks that will get you to where you want to be.

Your business success depends on you to choose and apply the best advice and proven methods that will work for you. But it can be a minefield out there.

There’s so much information it can be overwhelming just knowing where to start. Yet, if you have the right blueprint, growing your business is really a matter of following a well-marked trail of other successful people.

Here are four strategies to grow your business without breaking the bank, and tips on how to overcome the common obstacle to these strategies. Once you start integrating them into your business, you will have laid the groundwork for your success blueprint!

Option 1: Increase your marketing! Roll out a series of strategic, multiple marketing campaigns (keyword: multiple). Whether you are trying to break your company’s first million dollar milestone or whether you’re looking to move into the $200 million dollar level both scenarios will require increasing your company’s current level of visibility and raising greater awareness of your company’s unique sales proposition in the marketplace. Whatever the scale, the goal of achieving greater output will first need to start with increasing greater input. In today’s economy the key challenge is the ever-decreasing budget shortage. There are a number of strategies to try to meet the budget challenge. Here are three:

a. Join forces. Many of your marketing projects can receive greater funding, thus achieve greater response rates when you team together with one or two other complementary businesses. Joining forces can be as simple as a joint direct mail campaign or as creative as an alliance of businesses sponsoring a special event. Plus, multiple businesses together will always add more value to the end customer who attends the event.

b. Carve out a market niche. Increasing your marketing does not have to equate to increasing your marketing budget. But, in order to do so you will have to squeeze more leverage from your existing marketing budget. Businesses will always get a better ROI if your marketing message is being directed to a highly targeted market segment. Choosing to be more selective on “who” receives your marketing dollars will impact 50% or more return. The remaining balance will impacted by this third strategy.

c. Differentiate your value proposition. Marketing dollars will quickly disintegrate and be forgotten when the message is directed to a broad audience and especially so when the unique sales proposition isn’t really all that unique (in comparison to your competitor’s offerings) Investing the time and energy to evaluate a truly unique and compelling message that sets your business apart is a smart strategy to meeting the challenge of limited marketing dollars.

Strategy 2: Hire higher talent. I meet a lot of new clients whose belief is that no one can do as good of a job as they could, so they would just rather not waste the money on paying someone else to do a poor job. So, what ends up happening is these same small business owners continue laboring on that hamster wheel year after year in a blur of putting out fires, chaotically multi-tasking and racing the clock every day to jam in all of their tasks on the overflowing to-do lists. Here is my response: if the fear of poor results are what keeps you from hiring talent, then hire better talent who can match your results, or surpass your results.

You can wear yourself out running the marathon to your destination (only to collapse when you get there) or you could use your car to drive you there. Not only will you arrive much faster, but you’ll be rested when you get there. Okay, so the challenge here again is having the cash flow to support the new hires. (Yes, that car needs gas and of course gas costs money.)

a. Apply for a bank loan. As simple as this may sound, many small businesses have not fully explored what their banks (and other banks) can offer to supply the needed cash flow to grow. The plan many small business owners have about their cash flow is to wait until an increase of revenues comes in to use that surplus to fund for growth. Except, when you are in a hurry to get to where you need to go, you just need to borrow that gas money so you can get going. For many small business owners the concept of borrowing money to fund business growth is a scary jump that they are simply not comfortable with. Ahhh, here it is. An opportunity to get out of your comfort zone!

b. Re-distribute the budget. Take a hard look at your monthly profit and loss statements. Engage an admin person on your team to price shop those expenses that are commodities. Evaluate your other expenses and run the numbers to find out what the true ROI (return on investment) has been in the last 6 months. Cut out or prune back from those categories that came in on the lowest 20% of ROI producing expenditures.

c. Investigate your county and state resources. There are many resources for different types of businesses. Here are two local ones to look into that may be a good fit for your business: Bucks County Economic Development Center and Pennsylvania Career Link.

d. Offer shares of stock. Finding higher talent can mean simply outsourcing your projects. But, for those business owners who are looking for key players to grow with your company consider offering shares of stock. This not only offsets the lower pay, but it also attracts a more results driven, long term oriented, high performer.

Strategy 3: Prune back. Growing your business to the next level often entails eliminating your bottom 20% of product or service offerings. Think of it as shedding the dead weight. Landscaping needs regular pruning to flourish and grow — so do businesses. You want to channel your time, energy, resources and focus to the products, services and projects that yield your greatest margins. If you’re a service business that means you need to consider firing your bottom 20% of clients (your level D clients) in order to deliver better services to your A and B level clients. Drop the products or projects whose profit margins fall in the bottom 20%.

Strategy 4: Add a new spin. Just as the weather is always changing, the needs of your market changes as well. Spend the extra time you have (from pruning back) to get to know the profile and needs of your ideal market at a deeper level. How can you deliver your services to them in a more meaningful way? What new product or service can you offer to your “A” clients?

If you’ve gotten to this final paragraph I want to congratulate you for doing more than 90% of today’s small business owners. You are among the top 10% for taking time to read this business growth article. Taking charge of your business however, reads easier than it is.

Now that you understand these 4 strategies what are you going to do about it today?

Statistics say that people forget 50% of what they just learned by end of day. Then they forget 50% of that by the end of the next day. At that rate, if you wait a few weeks to act on anything you just read you may only remember 5%. My final challenge to you is to implement these 4 tactics. Business growth doesn’t happen from wishing for it, complaining about it or thinking about it. Business growth happens from sound, strategic planning and then implementation.

Business growth expert Yoon Cannon helps entrepreneurs create thriving 6, 7, and 8 figure businesses. Yoon has started, developed and sold 3 businesses herself, and so understands the unique challenges today’s business owners face on a daily basis. She has also trained and coached thousands of professionals in the service industry on marketing, productivity, leadership development and business management. Ms. Cannon continues to speak and be published. o receive free resources visit: www.paramountbusinesscoach.com.

Training Magazine

*This article was originally published in Training Magazine

My interview with
No More Bored Meetings

It might be time for a training refresher on how to run, and participate in, an effective meeting.

Rob Bellmar sprinted for home, glancing over his shoulder to check for the throw. That’s when he stepped on the bat in the base path and blew out his right quadriceps leg muscle.He learned something, though. About meetings.

The softball injury last June meant that Bellmar, senior vice president at InterCall, had to phone in for a meeting a few days later, rather than attend in person.

So what? Virtual meetings are business as usual for the Chicago-based West Corp. subsidiary. InterCall helps clients conduct meetings via audio, video, and Web. But Bellmar’s injury gave him a fresh insight. Calling in on the phone, he missed all the body language. If everybody’s remote, that’s one thing, but if some are present physically and one or more are virtual, meeting leaders must adjust.

For example: Were people paying attention? In person, stern looks from the senior VP matter. “In virtual meetings,” says Bellmar, “you’re not there to give them the peer-pressure stare, the one that says, ‘Are you in this meeting or not?’”

For the original article: https://trainingmag.com/content/no-more-bored-meetings

American Express Magazine

*This article was originally published in American Express Magazine

* What does your LinkedIn summary say about you?

Though often overlooked or underutilized, the LinkedIn summary is a free-form, 2,000-character-rich section located at the top of every LinkedIn profile—the profile owner’s moment to shine.

But because writing a compelling summary is time-consuming, LinkedIn users often bypass the summary section, missing their opportunity to tell their unique story and connect with profile readers.

I spoke with a number of LinkedIn experts and professional copywriters to get their takes on how to master the LinkedIn summary. Time and time again, I heard 10 key tips for getting it right. How many are you abiding by?

1. Use keywords intelligently.

Many LinkedIn users falsely believe that the summary section is a fitting section to unload a word cloud of relevant keywords, as the section helps with SEO. A blob of words, though, is not the best method. “Avoid sounding like you are keyword stuffing,” says LinkedIn marketing consultant Yoon Cannon. “Include the keywords in your summary copy, but [do so] using language that flows like a normal conversation.”

Intuit Magazine

*This article was originally published in Intuit magazine
Written by : Sheryl Nance-Nash

Although your mood of late may be moving from motivated to merry, there is much that you — and every small-business owner — should do before the year ends to set yourself on a good path for 2013.

Here are a few action items that should be at the top of your to-do list:

Tackle Your Taxes

Taxes are tricky this year due to the so-called “fiscal cliff.” Typically, it makes sense to maximize year-end expenditures and defer year-end revenues to minimize/defer your immediate tax burden. However, because taxes may go up in 2013, this year the reverse strategy may be best: Accelerate earnings, delay expenses. Consult your accountant about all tax moves.

If you want to take the hit but make things easier on your employees in 2013, consider paying bonuses now instead of next year to avoid gambling with changing tax rates for your workers. “It’s no extra work and will make employees happy this holiday season,” says Taylor Aldredge, ambassador of buzz for Grasshopper, a virtual phone system for entrepreneurs.

Target New Partners

Build your Dream 100 list, or the top businesses you would like to partner with or sign as clients. Develop a monthly plan to reach out to them in 2013 — whether it’s through a postcard, a phone call, or a face-to-face meeting — until they “buy or die,” says Robert Smith, founder of the public relations firm Champion Media Worldwide.

Build your Dream 100 list, or the top businesses you would like to partner with or sign as clients. Develop a monthly plan to reach out to them in 2013 — whether it’s through a postcard, a phone call, or a face-to-face meeting — until they “buy or die,” says Robert Smith, founder of the public relations firm Champion Media Worldwide.

Take Stock of Your Situation

What worked this year? What didn’t and why? Analyze revenue. Where did the money come from? From there, decide what to offer/expand in 2013. “Let go of programs, products, and services that fall into that 10 percent or less of revenue,” says Tina Forsyth, author of The Entrepreneur’s Trap.

Assess your role for 2013. “As the leader, what do you need to do more of and less of? Plan for the systems and teams to support the tasks that can be moved off your plate,” she says.

Analyze costs. Where can you improve your business to make it more efficient and reduce expenses? “This year it’s particularly important to check costs. Requirements for benefits and health care will change. For example, switching to a professional employer organization,” which provides human resource services to small businesses like paying wages and offering other benefits, “could save a lot of money in the long run by offering more benefits at a cheaper rate,” Grasshopper’s Aldredge says.

Mind Your Marketing

Review your 2012 marketing efforts. “You should be able to see a report that tells you month by month what your individual marketing tactics were, your investment in each, the number of leads generated, the number of sales transactions generated, the total sales dollar amount, and even the retention value of each sale,” says business growth expert Yoon Cannon of Paramount Business Coach.

Look forward. What new products and services will you create? By when? How will you raise the bar and further improve your client relationships? These are questions Chad Barr, an internet business strategist, says you should ask yourself.

With the improving economy, look to land bigger fish with larger budgets, says Steve Strauss, a contributor to Bank of America’s online small-business community.

“Is it time to appoint a chief customer officer — a person, perhaps already on staff, who is empowered to identify what the customer needs and wants — and put the process in motion to deliver this?” asks Mark Stevens, CEO of the marketing and management firm MSCO.