Wednesday, 25 July 2018

Procrastinators Anonymous

This week I was invited to speak to a business group where we discussed procrastination, analysis paralysis, lack of skills and confidence – all things that stop people getting on with tasks that could drive their business forward.

I focused on tips and advice to help people who were putting off writing content about their business but we also looked at productivity generally. So here are my top six tips to be more productive and then another six to help you get over writer's block.

Six tips to help you be more productive

1. It's not all about the famous 'to do' list. I love a good list. In fact, I've been known to add things I've just done to a list so I can immediately cross them off. Sometimes you need a 'don't do' list when you are getting sidetracked by distractions that aren't helping you, such as that video of dogs being baffled by the owners disappearing behind blankets and curtains.
2. Keep an eye on how accurate you are at estimating how long tasks will take when you plan out a day of work. If your diary includes a meeting out of the office remember to allow time to travel, park and walk to the venue. 
3. Try working in 45-minute blocks of time with your phone on silent and turned face down. When you've done your 45 minutes you can stretch your legs, check social media (BRIEFLY!) and make a cuppa. 
4. Multitasking is not a badge of honour. Practice the discipline of working on one thing at a time and giving it your full attention. Close your emails on your laptop, PC or device so that you don't flit off and deal with a 'quick' reply. It will take longer to get back into what you were doing before.
5. Keep your work area tidy and well-organised. You may try and convince yourself that 'filing' papers and pages in piles on the floor works well for you, but you will feel much better if you find them a proper home (or shred them if you don't need them any more).
6. No-one can be great at everything. Why waste time doing stuff you hate and that you aren't very good at when you could delegate it to someone who wants to do that work and is far better at it than you will ever be?

Photo by BRUNO CERVERA on Unsplash

Six tips to beat writer's block

1. Just write. Don't over-think it.  Just start writing and accept that you can improve it later on. No-one needs to see your first draft so lose your inhibitions and don't be self-conscious.
2. Forget the introduction, or opening sentence, if that's what's holding you up. You could write the ending or your call-to-action first and then work backwards. 
3. (This is one of my favourites and it's the best way of achieving tips 1. and 2.) Write as fast as you can for 10 minutes without stopping!! You could be surprised at how much useful and good stuff you'll have written that you can then edit and re-organise.
4. Tell the critical voice in your head to 'Shut up!' (You have one too, don't you? It's not just me, is it?)
5. If you're feeling stuck, try a change of scenery; move to a different place to write, perhaps a different room in your house, office or studio or head outside. Many people recommend movement to overcome writer's block. Go for a walk or a jog. Hop on a bus or a train if you have time. Fresh air and the beauty of nature can be a real inspiration.
6. Rehearse the story you want to tell by imagining yourself saying it out loud..... or better still DO say it out loud. If you have a pet they can make a receptive audience. In my experience dogs show marginally more interest in your stories than cats, but it's a close thing.

So, do you know someone who should be a member of Procrastinators Anonymous (if they could ever get round to organising a meeting)? Have you seen a website where the most recent news item or blog post is dated 2017 or earlier? Perhaps you can share this blog post with them and help them transform into a productivity ninja?

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Seven ways to get involved in Small Business Saturday 2018

It was back in March 2013 that I heard the words ‘Small Business Saturday’ for the first time.

I was sitting in the auditorium at Curve, Leicester, attending my first-ever Federation of Small Businesses conference. On stage was Chuka Umunna, then Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, who began to explain how he’d seen Small Business Saturday work in the United States and wanted to bring it here.

It was such a great idea that I’m delighted to say it won cross-party support and the first-ever Small Business Saturday took place in the UK on December 7, 2013. Each year since it has grown in size and influence, but if you’ve still not heard of it, let me tell you a bit more. It’s a grassroots, not-for-profit campaign supported by ALL the major political parties plus a number of major big businesses including American Express, which was responsible for launching the campaign in America in 2010.

It’s a year-round drive to showcase independent, small businesses and encourage more people to support them. The annual highlight in the UK is the first Saturday in December, which is called Small Business Saturday.

Small Business Saturday 2017 saw an estimated £748 million spent on the day with 56% of customers saying they spent more than usual on the day. More than 115,000 tweets were published about the event, with #SmallBizSatUK UK trending at number one in the UK.

Backing from local authorities was up from 80% in 2016 to 87% in 2017 with active support for the campaign.

This year, the sixth annual Small Business Saturday falls on Saturday, December

How you can get involved with Small Business Saturday 

1. Go to and sign-up for a free account. You can then register yourself on the FREE Small Business Finder online. Once your entry is approved, you can log in and update your profile whenever you want; add hyperlinks, offers and events.

The Small Business Finder of the Small Business Saturday website

2.  Apply to be in this year’s #SmallBiz100. From 2013 onwards, 100 companies have been chosen each year to represent the UK’s five million plus small businesses. Each year they are highlighted across online and print media, one a day for the 100 days leading up to Small Business Saturday. For the last five years, the 100 have not only received exposure on Small Business Saturday's social media channels and in the local and national press, but also joined the Small Business Saturday team in London at receptions in both Downing Street and The Treasury Drum with the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I was fortunate enough to be chosen in 2015 and it made a massive difference to my business and its profile locally, regionally and nationally. Applications this year will be open just for the month of June. 

3. The more you throw yourself into the spirit of Small Business Saturday the more you will get out of it. Make sure you are shouting about the small businesses that are your customers, your suppliers and your associates on social media. I’m sure that you do that anyway, but make a special effort to talk about what makes them special and how they go the extra mile. Engage with the Small Business Saturday team on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Share and reply to their posts and tag them in when you’re talking about small business initiatives. Whether you are a family business, a local shop, an online business, a wholesaler, a business-to-business service or a small manufacturer, Small Business Saturday wants to support you.

4. Create a promotion or special offer that your business can run to celebrate Small Business Saturday. If you own a shop there will be posters and logos you can download from the Small Business Saturday website later in the year to display in your windows and show your support. You might want to offer a special discount on the day – or offer free mince pies and hot drinks to customers. If you are a business services company maybe you can also offer a discount for clients for orders placed in the week (or two) around Small Business Saturday. Perhaps you could team up with other like-minded companies to create some free advice sheets that you circulate to other local businesses. In Burton we held a ‘flash conga’ in December 2015 to show the fun side of small businesses and we got local businesses to sponsor cloth bags that we gave out (it was the year when charges came in for plastic bags). 

The Small Business Conga in 2015. Picture by Joanne Cooper Photography.

5. You could do a tour of your favourite local, small businesses and share content about them on your blog or on social media. You could do short video clips of you talking to them about their story or just film your own video testimonial explaining why working with them is a positive experience and how they add value. This could be on the day itself, or perhaps focus on one business a day for the week leading up to Small Business Saturday. It could be your own personal #SmallBizSeven! Consumers are drawn to businesses that are generous in their support of others. Associating yourself with like-minded, quality businesses can only be a positive thing.

6. Remember Small Business Saturday is a celebration – so don’t be afraid to do something a bit different that will make you memorable. After our flash conga, we did a tour of Burton town businesses with a giant blue puppet in 2017. #BuckieLovesSmallBiz was the brainchild of Tilley Bancroft, one of the 2017 #SmallBiz100. 

Buckie with Helen of Helen's Bakehouse and Tearooms, December 2017

7. Look out for details of the 2018 Small Business Saturday bus tour, which will be announced later this year. In recent years the bus has visited towns and cities around the UK to promote the campaign and celebrate local businesses. It has played host to activities, workshops and small businesses stands. It’s a great opportunity to go along on the day and network with other businesses and get more content that you can post on your own social media to show your support for the campaign and for other small businesses.

Small businesses are a phenomenal force for good in their local communities. Many organise and support events and activities that raise funds for local charities and good causes. If you are a small business hero give yourself a huge pat on the back – and then start planning how you can get involved with the UK’s biggest small business campaign this year.

Monday, 23 April 2018

Here for the jobs you hate

If you work for yourself or are the founder of a business, then you were (hopefully) driven by your passion for the product or service at the core of your enterprise.

Maybe you run a restaurant or a farm shop. Perhaps you are a beautician or a landscape gardener. Whatever the nature of your business, you probably didn’t go into it because you just LOVE paperwork, administration, IT or sales. OK....if you are an accountant, a Virtual Assistant, a tech wizard or a sales consultant you will be in love with one of those areas of work, but probably not the other three.

When you become your own boss you suddenly find that EVERYTHING becomes your responsibility. It’s a thrill the first time you get that business card in your hand that describes you as Managing Director or Owner. But it could also list a host of other job titles too. You are now also: Transport and Fleet Manager; HR Director; Sales Director; IT Director; Marketing Manager and even the office dogsbody.

Perhaps you are able to employ full-time staff to carry out some of these essential roles for you – but if you are the boss the buck stops with you and you need to understand enough about what they are doing to be confident that they are doing a good job.

If your finances don’t allow you to expand your payroll in the early days, then your option is to outsource tasks to freelancers and other small businesses. This frees you up to focus on the stuff you are best at – and what you really want to do. It also means that when you delegate work to someone who is an expert in that field they can do it more quickly and to a better standard than you could yourself.
Photo by Nick Morrison on Unsplash
Recently I practised what I preach by engaging expert proofreader Lindsay Corten, of Corten Editorial, to proofread some new and updated policies I had written for my website on privacy and terms and conditions. I enjoy writing most things but having completed these documents from legal templates I have access to through my membership of the Federation of Small Businesses, I didn’t want to spend any more time on them than was strictly necessary.

Helping other businesses and organisations with news articles, features, website copy, blogs and social media strategies is what I love to do. To me that’s far more interesting and exciting than the worthy policies I needed to write for my OWN website. So, having drafted up the documents, off they went to Lindsay who is superb at spotting the little inconsistencies that can sneak into multiple, formal documents and policies. She ironed out some punctuation and grammar issues that had come over with the original legal templates. My goodness, that woman is a stickler for detail and when she has proofread your work you can be sure it’s been proofread!

In the same way, I enjoy helping business owners who haven’t got the time or the inclination to write their own content for print and online channels. As an ex-journalist, I love finding out the stories behind businesses and what makes them tick. It’s great to get under the skin of a business and be able to ‘ghost’ write for CEOs and MDs when they have an opportunity to submit articles or columns to the trade press or local media. It’s such a buzz when they read what I’ve written and say ‘That sounds just like me’.

If you would rather retain control of the content produced by and about your business, I can also run training courses and one-off workshops to support employees and managers and help them to write for different audiences and purposes.

Writing a press release is a different discipline to writing a LinkedIn article, a chatty blog post or website copy. I can help people to hone the skills of structuring, writing and editing different types of content and developing the confidence to do it with the minimum of fuss.

So if writing and editing is a task you hate, give me a call and see how I could take some of the stress out of your to-do list.

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Are you ready to quit social media?

Pub chain JD Wetherspoon made the news this week when it announced it was quitting all its social media channels.

Various reasons were given including:

  • It wasn't helping the business make money
  • It was distracting its 900 pub teams from the core job of serving customers
  • The chain didn't like the trolling on social media and the way people's data was being used.

In my experience, when people say social media is doing nothing for their business, it's more likely that the problem lies with them rather than the channels. Many business owners still don't really 'get' social media and they are not using it to its full potential. They expect overnight success and aren't prepared to put in the consistent effort that is required to build an audience and then hold their attention.

Photo by Jacob Ufkes on Unsplash

Unless you have a clear strategy linked to outcomes that you can measure, and a good understanding of your sector and your core audience, you can be a busy fool burning up hours throwing out sales messages.

For me, it all comes back to putting the 'social' at the forefront of your social media campaigns. You can push out posts about your latest special offers and hope that some of them stick, or you can invest time in finding out as much as you can about your customers, what they want and need and how you can them entertained, informed and make them loyal fans of your brand.

Success also depends on your offering - the products, services or hospitality that you offer have to be right. You need to offer value and great customer service. Social media can't make up for shortcomings in your business. It's a great tool to research and communicate, to tell stories that engage your customers, but it's not a miracle cure if your business is already struggling to deliver.

I've also written about The JD Wetherspoon story on LinkedIn. Please join the conversation there or leave me a comment here. Are you reviewing your use of social media? What are the biggest issues your business is facing online at the moment?

Monday, 26 February 2018

What's your BIGGEST writing problem?

Many business owners tell me that when it comes to creating content about their business they have one (or more) of these problems:

1. They don't have the time to write blogs, newsletters and news articles.
2. They don't enjoy creating content - so it always gets bumped to the bottom of the to-do list.
3. They aren't confident about writing and feel they don't have the skills to write engaging copy, news articles, blog posts or newsletter content.

Photo by Kaitlyn Baker on Unsplash
I think 1. and 2, are really the same problem. It's very easy to say you don't have time to do something that you don't want to do.

Everybody has 24 hours in a day and if you want to do something, or you make it a priority, you can always find time.

We have all had one of those days when you start off with a to-do list that has a job on it we really don't want to tackle. It is so tempting to find other things that we will enjoy doing more, or that we feel are more important to our business, and let them jump the queue.

Perhaps you have come across a self-help book called Eat That Frog! by Brian Tracy, which urges you to get your 'worst' task done first thing in the morning. It might be making a tricky phone call, sorting out some boring but essential administration work or writing a long overdue blog post. After that you should be able to breathe a contented sigh and sail through the rest of your day feeling smug and self-satisfied.

That tough approach might work well for some people, but maybe there's another way. After all, life is too short to spend time dreading a task and then steeling yourself to get it done and out of the way.

Maybe you can change your mindset and feel happy about doing the task because of the benefits it will bring to you and your business?

If it's a task, such as writing, that you can do from anywhere, perhaps you can take yourself off to your favourite coffee shop, or to a place in the countryside that you love, and tackle your writing there. It's amazing how a change of scenery can get the creative juices flowing and demolish writer's block.

Sometimes it makes sense to delegate jobs that you don't enjoy, and which aren't your area of expertise, to someone who will enjoy them and do a good job. This allows you to get on with the things you love about your business.

For example, I certainly don't enjoy wrestling with IT - and it's not why I set up my own business - but once I left corporate life in 2010, I could no longer pick up the phone to the IT department and ask them to come and sort out my ailing computer.  So, I've found an IT expert who helps me whenever anything goes wrong or needs upgrading. He can sort things in 10 minutes that would take me hours of research and effort.

I love putting myself in the shoes of a business owner and writing case studies, articles, blog posts and features for them and it's rewarding to hear how I am making their lives easier. A customer recently emailed me at the end of a project and said: "Can I just say working with you has been great, so easy, I really didn't need to assist much at all, which meant I could leave you to get on with it, while I got on with my other jobs. Thank you."

If you do want to write your own content, I can also provide one-to-one coaching and support to give you skills and confidence in telling the stories that will make you memorable and prompt customers and prospective customers to pick up the phone, send an email or engage with you on social media. Get in touch to find out more.

Friday, 8 December 2017

Can LinkedIn help me grow my business in 2018?

When you sit down to plan how to grow your business in the new year, should you be looking at investing more time in LinkedIn?

Do you have an account that you've not updated for a while?

Are you proactively posting content that establishes your business values and your expertise?

Do you have a strategic approach and an action plan to connect with the people and businesses that matter to you?

Are you drowning in notifications you aren't interested in and requests to connect with random people that you don't know?

To help you decide if there could be a better way to use LinkedIn in 2018, here are 10 reasons that have convinced businesses I work with that LinkedIn should be a key business development tool for them:

  1. Google LOVES LinkedIn, so it can be a top result in the search engine when people 'Google' your name - and you want to make the best possible first impression, don't you?
  2. That inbuilt search engine-friendliness makes LinkedIn a powerful tool to drive traffic to your website - and there are SO many places on LinkedIn where you can legitimately create links to  pages on your website. Are you using them all? 
  3. Would you welcome the chance to be in a room with the leaders of the businesses and organisations with which you dream of working? LinkedIn can help you reach them online and build collaborative relationships that pave the way for future work and projects.
  4. There are many features in your LinkedIn profile that can help you to be found by the people you want to reach and influence. Are you using them all? Are you using keywords in your headline and summary that demonstrate the difference you can make? Are you uploading rich media to add interest and relevance to your profile? Are you using all the aspects of the 'accomplishments' section, such as 'projects', 'courses', 'honours and awards' and 'organisations'? 
  5. If you use all the options LinkedIn provides in its 'Settings & Privacy' section you can cut down (or cut out completely) lots of noise and notifications. You can also control how people communicate with you and what they can send to you.
  6. LinkedIn gives you access to lots of ways to measure the impact you are having with the content you create and share. It's very easy to set objectives and measure the return you are getting from the time you spend on the platform.
  7. Articles and updates on LinkedIn give you an opportunity to establish 'thought leadership', demonstrate expertise and experience and - importantly - to offer help and advice to others.
  8. LinkedIn is a business relationship builder. The benefits you get from it will be limited if all you use it for is to broadcast your own messages and content. It is the closest digital cousin to face-to-face networking and the same rules apply. You should take part in conversations, show interest and support for others and recommend and refer the businesses and people that you rate highly.
  9. LinkedIn is a useful research tool. It can help you discover breaking business news for your sector. You can follow the business leaders you admire and respect. You can find trusted suppliers who will provide the best value for your business. You can research the brightest and best potential employees and show them why working for you would be the right decision for them.
  10. The days when social media trainers advised people to connect randomly to as many people as possible on LinkedIn have (thankfully) gone. LinkedIn works best when everyone has a valid reason for requesting and accepting connection requests. There are some great ways of finding the people you need to connect with, and managing your connections. You should personalise requests to connect and look at a strategy for 'following' people to learn more about their issues and interests as a way of generating business leads.
During 2017 the businesses I have worked with to develop LinkedIn strategies and coach them on using the full potential of LinkedIn include:
  • Construction companies
  • Legal firms
  • Florists
  • Business and life coaches
  • Copywriters
  • Charities
  • Printing firms
  • Web development companies
  • Creative agencies
  • Fitness coaches
  • Education consultants
  • Arists and creative businesses
  • Therapists
It's hard to think of a type of business where LinkedIn could not help with the achievements of specific measurable goals and objectives.

On Friday, January 19, I will be running the latest of my public workshops on LinkedIn which offer three hours of high value training for just £37.  It's a great way to learn about the 10 points above, and much more. For sole traders it can be all you need to kick-start a more productive way of using LinkedIn.

Larger companies may wish to send someone along to be enthused and learn about creating a LinkedIn strategy. The workshop can then be followed up, if you wish, with one-to-one bespoke coaching for your employees and the development of a bespoke action plan and creation of articles with impact aimed at engaging your ideal customers.

A maximum of 12 places are available on the January 19 workshop, which takes place from 10am to 1pm at Advantage House, Stowe Street, Lichfield, Staffordshire. For more information, and to book a place, contact me.

Here's what a few of the business owners who have attended workshops in 2017 have said about the experience.

Friday, 17 November 2017

We're supporting small independent businesses in Burton-on-Trent

Businesses in Burton-on-Trent have had a tough time recently. Essential roadworks - carried out at short notice – closed one of two main bridges that bring shoppers and commuters into the town centre for 11 weeks.

There was a major impact on the town, so this year it’s more important than ever that we encourage people to return to the town and #shoplocal this Christmas.

That’s why I’m backing an idea by fellow Burton Small Business founder, Tilley Bancroft, for the #BuckieLovesSmallBiz tour that will take place in the town centre on Small Business Saturday.

Tilley explained: “It’s going to be a really celebratory day. Buckie, our two-person-operated puppet, will have an entourage following him taking pictures and videos and putting Burton businesses firmly on the map on Small Business Saturday.”

She added: “Buckie can be a bit cheeky. He loves to poke his nose into whatever’s going on and he loves having selfies taken. We think it will be a lot of fun.”

You can watch Buckie herewhen he joined the Small Business Saturday bus tour, and even got chance to drive the bus!

Small Business Saturday falls on December 2 this year. It’s a day when consumers and businesses are reminded to make a special effort to support the small, independent businesses in their local communities.

When you buy from a small business you're keeping more of your money in your local community. Research by local authorities in the UK has shown that for every £1 spent with a small or medium-sized business, 63p stays in the local economy. This compares to 40p in every £1 spent with larger businesses.

At Burton Small Business we also believe passionately that small independent, shops, cafes, bars and restaurants add variety to our high street. They often provide innovative and unique services and products that you won’t find in chain stores. That’s not to say that we are anti-big business. We welcome the big name stores to Burton that attract shoppers into the town and provide jobs for local people.

It’s important to note that Small Business Saturday – which celebrates five years in the UK in 2017 – is supported by many big businesses and brands because they recognise the importance of small and medium-sized businesses to our economy.
  • Small businesses accounted for 99.3% of all private sector businesses at the start of 2016 and 99.9% were small or medium-sized (SMEs). 
  • Total employment in SMEs was 15.7 million; 60% of all private sector employment in the UK.
  • The combined annual turnover of SMEs was £1.8 trillion, 47% of all private sector turnover in the UK.
So, for us in Burton, December 2 will be all about having fun ahead of Christmas and celebrating as many local shops and cafes as we can.

Buckie will be touring the town from 9.30am. His provisional itinerary will be:

11.30am: Café B

All small businesses are welcome to join Buckie and his entourage at one or more of these planned stops. You will be able to get selfies taken with Buckie (make sure you bring a printed logo or business card to promote your business on the photos). Bring the children along if you want – small businesses are ALL about family.

You will have the chance to appear in the film Tilley and her Red Door Studios team will be making.

I’ll be helping to hand out flyers to the general public explaining why there’s a giant blue puppet on the streets. Huge thank to our supporter Zero Gravitee– signage and printing specialists from Burton’s Eton Business Park – for providing these and some #BuckieLovesSmallBiz t-shirts for the team.

The hashtag #BuckieLovesSmallBiz, will help anyone who can’t get into town to follow his adventures on Facebook, Twitter and other social media channels.

We hope we’ll be raising the profile of Burton’s great small businesses and encourage record numbers to shop at small independents this Christmas.