Time flies...

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... it really does, if you don’t manage it, or manage yourself as best you can.

Do you, like me, wonder where time goes, especially at weekends?  As the clocks went back and we gained an hour it got me thinking once again about time and how to make the best use of it.

Time is precious and something we all complain we don’t have enough of.

For me it is essential to have a routine to my working day and working week.  When you run your own business and don’t have the structure of a 9 – 5 job it can be very easy to get side tracked doing the things that are easy and that you enjoy, leaving other tasks right until the last minute. On days when I don’t effectively plan my time it is easy for the day to disappear in a flurry of reactive busyness.

Personally, I like to spend the morning responding to emails and getting things up to date. I try and take an hour in the middle of the day to do some reading or business development and then in the afternoon I work on longer term projects.  I prefer to be in the office on Mondays and Fridays, so will arrange meetings in the middle of the week where possible, this makes the week less disruptive.

We are all aware of these tips but sometimes it’s good to be reminded:

  • Lump together similar tasks – get into a rhythm
  • Live in the present – focus
  • Choose the right environment for the type of work you are doing – office, coffee shop, walking
  • Identify drains on your time – long phone calls, unnecessary meetings
  • Outsource and delegate where possible – can we help?
  • Be strict with yourself and switch off by a certain time each day 

So, is a structured life a productive life?  Do you need to manage time or manage yourself?

If you have the time (!) watch this video and let me know what you think…

That new term feeling...

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My school days are a distant memory but September still has that ‘start of term’ feeling for me.  Does it for you?

The first few days can be a struggle after the freedom and fun of the summer and it can be hard to get motivated, but for me it’s the opportunity to start afresh with renewed enthusiasm.

At school, September would mean new shoes, a new uniform, new subjects, a new timetable, new teachers, new friends, new targets and, most importantly, a new notebook and pencil case!

It may sound bizarre at first, but I think many of these can be translated into our business lives.

New shoes
Stiff, tight, uncomfortable to start with but once you wear them in they are fine. In business how often do you break out of your zone and do something you really don’t enjoy but you know it would be good for your business? Making that call?  Asking a client for a referral?  Speaking in public about your business?  The more you do it the more comfortable it becomes.
 
New uniform
As the seasons change so inevitably does your wardrobe. Think carefully about the image you want to portray and whether your clothes show that image. Also, think about the context, a full suit may not be necessary for a coffee and catch up with an old client!

New subjects
I can’t get enough of self-help books about business.  Currently I am reading the excellent, Profit First by Mike Michalowicz. Is there a gap in your knowledge?  Are there new subjects you’ve always thought about studying?

New timetable
Do you break your day up and give it structure? A common approach is to spend the first hour of the day responding to emails, followed by making calls, leaving the rest of the day for meetings and other projects. Make sure you factor in some time for learning and an hour for yourself, whether it’s to go for a walk, go to the gym or read up on that new subject, this is essential.

I like to spend the last 30 minutes of the day tidying up loose ends and making my to do list for the next day.

New teachers
I wouldn’t be running my business today if it wasn’t for life coaches (Thank you Ginny and Sally Ann) and business coaches (thank you Richard A).   Everyone needs support, encouragement and a different perspective sometimes.  Think about areas where you are stuck or struggling – it might be useful to speak to someone looking from the outside in.

New friends
My version of making new friends is networking.   People ‘do’ business with people they like and trust and who they know do a good job.   Meeting new people every week or every month expands your network, giving you resources to call on as well as putting you in front of people who may need your products or services.
 
New targets
I am constantly writing down my goals. I am a great believer in ‘if you write it down it will happen’. 
 
You need targets and plans on how to achieve those targets. It’s good to do a 10 year, 5 year, 1 year and 1 month target so you can see where you are going and how you are going to get there and focus on getting there.  

My favourite quote this month is: ‘Energy flows where focus goes’.

New notebook and pencil case
I have always been a stationery freak; nothing gives me more pleasure than starting a new notebook.

I never understand why stationery has to be boring.  Currently I love the designs by kikki.k they brighten up my desk.

Give us a call on 020 3021 0503 or email us on info@blueumbrella.co.uk any time.

Delegation is what you need

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I've just returned from the most amazing holiday. We spent two weeks enjoying the sun, sea and Sangria on a beautiful Spanish island. I feel enthused, re-energised, full of optimism and ideas for the rest of 2017 and beyond!

One of the reasons I enjoyed this break so much was that I was able to switch off from everything here at blueumbrella with complete confidence that nothing would go wrong.

Having such an amazing team around me made this possible but I also followed a process of delegation which I have used for so long that it is virtually instinctive to me now. On this occasion I took a closer look to see if I could refine this process and improve it in any way. What I realised is that with modern technology, delegating is less onerous than ever. However, there are a number of key elements to getting delegation right that will never change.

I made a note of these which I shared with all blueumbrella's VAs, and now you! I hope they may be of some use and help you to improve how you delegate. Some may seem obvious, but I believe it is worth taking the time to go through them in detail.

  • Prepare - Take the time to map out exactly what you need
  • Assign - Share all necessary information in a clear and consistent way
  • Confirm understanding - Don't assume understanding, take the time to confirm
  • Trust but verify - let the person you are delegating know that it's ok to 'run things by you' at the beginning rather than make a wrong decision
  • Give feedback - This is incredibly useful to both parties. It may take a little more time, but it will ensure you are getting what you need and helping others to get better which can only benefit you in the long run

Finally, one of the most important things I have learnt over the years is that when there is a mistake, it is rarely the person doing the work who has caused the problem. When you analyse why the problem occurred, you almost always find a misunderstanding with the original instructions.

Hopefully, if you follow some of my top tips, you can avoid any problematic situations! As ever, if you have any comments or tips, please let us know!


Time for a VAcation? Get ready for summer!

I recently read an article which claimed that more than three quarters of entrepreneurs go without holidays in order to keep their business ticking over. In fact, it's something I was guilty of in the early days of blueumbrella.

However, taking time off is essential and most certainly not a luxury! Having some time away can  provide tangible benefit to you and your business. A holiday allows your body and mind to relax and recharge, which in turn benefits your business.

But how do you do this with confidence? It's all in the planning! Often people wait to the last minute before seeking support when in fact, this should be done as early as possible to ensure good understanding of all requirements. It's also a worthwhile investment of your time to let clients and customers know that you'll be away, this allows you to be as prepared as possible for any potential problems.

Holidays are often a time for reflection with the intention of doing things differently, launching new projects or starting new enterprises on your return. But it is so easy to slip back in to your pre-holiday routines habits and forget your new ideas. So why not make this summer the one you really do make those changes and start to do things differently! 

Give us a call on 020 3021 0503 or email us on info@blueumbrella.co.uk to see how we can help.

Making meetings matter

We all know ‘that’ feeling when we’re faced with a full day of meetings. I spend so much of my time scheduling, rearranging, cancelling and attending meetings that sometimes I wonder how anyone gets anything done! It’s almost like many of us are ‘addicted’ to them.

Of course, I fully understand that many of these are important and necessary. I also know from my experience in corporate life and in running blueumbrella, that a vast proportion of these are not needed.

I recently read a survey which showed the average worker spends 16 hours a week(!) in meetings. That’s over a month a year stuck in meetings. A month! The cost of having so many meetings is also astonishing, according to research from Epson and the Center for Economics and Business Research meetings are costing the UK economy £26 billion.

One of my fantastic clients is operating at full capacity and has started struggling to fit everything into their day. We undertook an analysis of their diary and found over 40 regularly scheduled monthly meetings. We identified that many of these meetings did not require their attendance. Often they could be done remotely, by email or even by another representative from the team. Consequently, we have managed to halve the amount of meetings they have to attend which has proved liberating for our client!

We also looked at how to make the remaining meetings more effective and efficient. Here’s what we outlined to help make meetings matter:

  • Set clear objectives.  What do you hope to achieve from the meeting?  If your goal is simply to disseminate information, an email may be a better, more efficient approach.
  • Create an agenda and send it in advance. Productive meetings require structure and planning.
  • Invite the right people. Who do you need to attend to achieve the meetings purpose?
  • Start and end on time. No one ever complained because a meeting ended on time!
  • Follow up - and follow through. When the meeting is over, the follow-up begins.

We also discussed a couple of other areas to make meetings better. There is a growing trend to hold either walking or standing meetings to ensure they do not last too long. Another idea was to ban all technology! We think this would stop many unnecessary distractions. Most importantly though, we agreed the quality of drinks and snacks needs to be better! 

If you have any tips or tricks on how to run effective meetings we’d love to hear from you.

Give us a call on 020 3021 0503 or email us on info@blueumbrella.co.uk

The art of communication

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Communication is easy right? We all do it, pretty much all day every day. We talk to our loved ones, we message our friends, we send numerous emails and take calls throughout the day at work.

But how effective are these interactions? Are you picking up the right information? And are you missing anything important from them?

This is something I’ve been thinking about, and working on developing for the whole time I’ve run blueumbrella. As we’re a virtual company, with our team all working remotely and with clients from all over the UK and Europe, communicating clearly and effectively is one of the most important aspects of my business.

Our clients often have a very short time to brief us on a project or, as many are entrepreneurs, they have a million things going around their heads at one time! Extracting the right information at the right time is imperative for continued success. We’d all love to be able to chat leisurely over a coffee and set our plans for the next weeks and months, unfortunately life, and business isn’t like that!

The two main areas where we’ve worked hardest with our communication methods here at blueumbrella are how to actively listen and the art of asking the right questions, at the right time.

We all know the saying, ‘the best communicators are the best listeners’, and I wholeheartedly agree. But how to you learn to listen effectively? We find the following tends to help us:

  • Ask the right questions – this comes with experience – see below
  • Wait for the answer, don’t assume anything and ‘jump in’ with an answer
  • Continue to actively listen to your clients

Secondly, how do you ask the ‘right’ questions. The wrong question is almost guaranteed to generate the wrong answer. The right question asked at the wrong time can also be equally useless.
Asking effective questions can be quite a tricky skill to master so we’ve put our heads together to come up with a few tips which might be helpful:

  • Effective questions are open-ended and not leading questions
  • Sometimes asking ‘why’, can make people defensive, try to use ‘what’ or ‘how’
  • Try not to make assumptions

Communication seems to be easy, but it is actually complex and something that needs constant work. Here at blueumbrella we constantly strive to be the best and provide the services you need, not what we think you want and we so this by actively listening to you and asking the right questions, at the right time. 

Networking: The power of connections

I’m not going to lie. I used to hate networking, I mean really hate it. Just the thought of being in an environment full of strangers, all being pushy with their own agendas and different approaches, would make me feel sick in the pit of my stomach! I would pretty much do anything to avoid this scenario. That was until a dear old colleague of mine pointed out to me, that I successfully networked every single day.

Not in the way I feared as I so eloquently(!!) describe above, but in a very different way. This colleague explained to me that they saw me chatting, making introductions and connections in the office and that was fantastic networking. I just hadn’t ever thought of it that way.

Fast-forward several years. Soon after I set up blueumbrella, I found myself in the exact position which used to make me so anxious, in a room, full of strangers, feeling a little intimidated. But this time it was different. I remembered what my colleague had said to me, took a deep breath, smiled and dived right in. That evening I made some of the best connections I have ever had, two of whom are still intimately involved in my business to this day.

That conversation all those years ago, made such a difference to me – and my business. In fact, if I hadn’t had it, I doubt I would be in my current position! Networking now plays an integral part in blueumbrella and its success, be it in a formal situation or a chat with someone at yoga, making connections can open a world of possibilities.

However, it did take me some time to actually get good at ‘professional’ networking. It’s not something I ever had the opportunity to train to do, so my development was more trial and error! Through this process I did manage to gather a few top tips which I use to help me out:

  • Don't wait around the edges of the room, waiting for someone to approach you. This always made me feel like I was on the ‘back foot’. Be positive, get the conversation started, ask a simple question such as, “May I join you" or "What brings you to this event?"
     
  • It may sound terribly cheesy, but don’t forget to smile. Not only does it help relax you, it puts others at ease too. Always think ‘warmth, curiosity and generosity’.
     
  • Focus on others. People always like talking about themselves, and you’ll quickly learn what’s important to them.
     
  • Don’t forget to follow up any connections you make, even a simple ‘nice to have met you’ email may lead to new opportunities.

These may not work for you, but I find them invaluable. As always, we’d love to hear from you if you have any wise words or thoughts on how to network better.

Outsourcing with confidence. It's all about collaboration.

2017 is just a month old and we’re firing on all cylinders! We’ve got new clients and some fantastic projects getting underway. It’s a great time of year for us at blueumbrella, we look forward with energy and optimism to all the opportunities that a new year brings.  

We’re sure that you feel the same and are looking at your business and thinking about the next 12 months – and beyond. Whether you’re looking at starting a new business, new projects or initiatives, we want to let you know that blueumbrella are here to give you that extra helping hand along the way.

Recently we’ve talked about time management and productivity in our newsletters and blogs. But what happens if you still need a hand operating and growing your business? This is where blueumbrella come in. A great way of freeing up time to work on key areas of your business is to share some of the more routine aspects with us. We quickly get up to speed with our understanding and can offer solutions which can make you operate more efficiently.

Recently Jordan Cohen of PA Consulting interviewed businesses in Europe and the US in a study for Harvard Business Review. The results are startling. He found that 41% of an entrepreneur's day is filled with activities which could be competently handled by others.

So what could you do with 41% more time?

•    Focus more on your customers
•    Increase capacity for faster growth
•    More strategic planning
•    Find and recruit the right people
•    Something fun that isn't work related - go to the gym, meditate..? 

These are only a few examples. Just think how different your business would be if you had this extra time.

There are many other benefits in working with us and letting us take care of some of your more routine tasks. We offer the experience, quality and flexibility which really benefits both you and your business. We can also advise on what not to ‘outsource’ from your business. 

How do you do this with confidence? We know how hard it can be ‘letting go’, but we also know how liberating and transformational it can be. With our experience in the industry you can trust us to provide fantastic solutions which help you grow your business. Simply give us a call on 020 3021 0503 or email us on info@blueumbrella.co.uk for a free consultation on how we can help transform and grow your business.