Category Archives: Professional Self-Assessment

Organizing an Effective Home Office: Insights of Trial and Error

For starters, my ideal – which is to “keep it simple,” may apply here more than anywhere else. Your choice to operate out of a “home office” is somewhat a major life decision. Your work space (whether it’s a private office or a corner in your living room) must be an area conducive to mental and physical comfort, or you’ll find that “work stress” can easily become “life stress”. This is counter-productive and totally the opposite of why you chose a home-based business in the first place, right?

That said, your home office space may not be “spa retreat-ish” but you should have a comfortable and supportive chair, a flat workspace for your needs, good lighting, and system to keep it and the rest of your space organized.

Here is what works for me:

DESK:

I have a simple desk. On it I have my computer, my phone, small set of family (motivational) photos, and a modest-sized “catch all” that has a few compartments for pens, highlights, emery boards, chapstick (…yes, just the essentials) and a calculator. Right next to my desk I have an all-in-one printer that sits on top of a double drawer rolling filing cabinet. In the cabinet I keep the files and supplies that I use on a semi-regular basis, such as, printer ink, my stationery/folders, current client resources, a file for my receipts, all personal correspondence, paper, folders, etc.

RECEIPTS:

Now for the receipts’ file. I keep it monthly. At the beginning of the month, I simply replace the file with the new month’s file. That way, at tax time, I don’t have to go through a whole year’s receipts and divide it up. It’s already separated.

MAIL:

My method probably won’t work for all, but this is what I do: I leave it where it is. My local postal carrier is likely not a big fan of this method, but again…it’s what I do. My home office has the luxury of an outdoor, locked mailbox. Mail goes in and stays there until I am ready to retrieve it…. and “process” it. The same is true for my business mailing address. I have a PO Box that holds my mail until I am ready for it. Because most of my personal and professional business is handled electronically, I don’t worry much about missing something that is time-sensitive. Even paper invitations tend to be preceded by a text or evite. The point is to “control” what you can and the rate and time at which (junk) mail enters your organized space – is totally up to you. When you do check your mail, sit with it, sort it based on recipient and /or required follow-up action, shred it, and move on.  (Similar advice applies to your Email inbox, but we’ll cover that later.)

“DAYTIMER”:

Yes, a handheld NOTEBOOK (not an e-device). Your “Daytimer” can have a space for all your business cards, appointment cards, and go a long way to help you stay organized – if you use it. Here is one that is part of a complete organizing/goal-management system. I found it somewhat randomly online, but I’ve used mine since the start of the new year and bought one for my teen daughter – who is aiming to better organize her time so that she can squeeze in a part time job. We both find it useful.

3-RING BINDERS:

(or a Desktop Filing System) Yes, again with the “old school methods” – but this is one of my favorites. I do a lot of research for clients and also have a lot of e-mails that I need to print and save. I use paper that already has the wholes punched for insertion into a 3 ring binder. I will print out important research, client e-mails I need to save, work that I’ve done so I can review it later, etc., on this paper and then put it into the proper binders. I have a binder for all active clients, including HireAlexis. You would be amazed how clearer things are in a binder than tossed in a file cabinet. For my business it works tremendously.

(You knew that with all these “dos” – a “don’t” was coming, right?)

Okay , here it goes:

No Piling of Anything Allowed. This is one of those habits that can be so easy to get into – I speak from experience! But I stop myself now because I know it will just be brushed off to the side and forgotten. Too often I miss something important and regret the piling blunder again. You will be amazed how much more organized you will feel if you just don’t do this one thing. And time yourself. You think you are too busy, but it takes seconds and how long does it take to look for that missing document.

Lastly, opinions vary on when to review your checklist for optimal efficiency, so here’s my advice:

  1. Start your morning early. Finding quiet early morning time for divine communion, or mediation, works wonders. As you conclude this time, make a list of what you desire to accomplish today.This process will likely include a reflection on yesterday’s list. Move and prioritize tasks and errands, as necessary.
  2. Keep your list handy all day. This will help you evaluate your ability to answer those “quick requests” that come up all day and motivate you to “finish up” when you are tempted to treat yourself to an extra break.
  3. Clean your station, and check your list again, at the end of the day. This may seem a final step in a monumental project until you get caught up, but – when it’s done, reward yourself daily by spending a few minutes to regain that great feeling of accomplish and day’s work well done.
  4. Rinse (yourself) and repeat daily.
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Your “Secret” to New Year Resolution Success

The “secret” to success with your New Year resolutions is …… START NOW.
(You are probably already considering the things you want to do and change in 2013…am I right?)

startWell, by deciding now and waiting until later to get started, you are building on a foundation of procrastination…and setting yourself up for further delays in the achievement of your goals.

The key is to start now! “Striking while the iron is hot” – so to speak – by constructing a plan that will start immediately to (at least gradually) build to direct daily and weekly ACTIONS that will promote your goal achievement.

Here are some quick tips to help you on your way…

1) Start now – Plan your reward. Few things motivate like the promise of a reward. What’s even better?!? You can offer yourself a reward for even the “smallest” of accomplishments. Start now and consider how you will reward yourself TODAY for getting started.

2) Start now – Write it down, draw a picture, “pin” an interest…something. Take the proactive step of making your goal real by creating a visual impression of your “finish line” and anything you want and need to make it a reality.

3) Start now – Handle your business. This might mean waking up little earlier, taking shorter breaks during the day, or getting to bed a little later. (I advise against planning for all three at once…can you say “burn out”?!?). Identifying time is key component in your success. You can’t “make” time (we all have the same 24 hours a day), but you can prioritize your time. This may mean letting something go for a season, but you can strike a balance. Aligning your goals and action plans with the support of a good Coach can really help with this. (I’m accepting new coaching clients, by the way. Feel free to contact me, if you’re interested.)

4) Start now – Consider ways to track and measure your progress. Some measurements will be basic math. Others may be more subjective – but NO LESS VALUABLE or measurable. Say, you have a personal resolution to get healthier. You can track weight loss and muscle gain with scales that give you direct quantifiable results of your work. However, your success with your goal to get more rest and take time to indulge in mental health activities will only be measured by how you feel—which is unique and subjective – but measurable, nonetheless. Likewise, a professional goal to become a “better speaker” can very well be facilitated by specific action steps, with the results being numerically measured (increased # of booked speaking engagements, evaluation scores, or  number of closed sales after presentations) and/or subjectively assessed (“I feel more comfortable speaking about my products or services than I did a month ago.”)

5) Start now – Encourage yourself. Starting the journey toward a new venture, a changed habit, or simply a renewed focus, can be daunting, but is almost always worth the effort. No matter the final outcome, you grow stronger, smarter, and more confident from the effort you apply.

6) START NOW!

Best Wishes for a strong finish of 2012 and A productive launch into 2013,

Alexis

Why You Need a Small Business Management Consultant

Article shared in it’s entirety from “The Raymond Aaron Group”: http://aaron.com/2012/04/25/why-you-need-a-small-business-management-consultant/

Why You Need a Small Business Management Consultant

For most people, owning your own business sounds like a dream come true. You get to be your own boss, choose your hours, and make all the important decisions about how you’ll allocate your resources. That’s how it sounds…

Any real business owner knows the truth. That running a small business is much more complicated, time-consuming, and challenging that most people make it out to be. Even worse, running a small business is often less profitable than those on the outside believe.

That vast majority of small business owners earn a salary of exactly how much is left in their bank account after paying all of the expenses. At the end of some months, that may amount to a nice living. On others, well, it’s not a pretty picture.

With out proper planning and management, those margins can easily go negative. Quite honesty, that’s exactly how most small businesses go under.

Opportunity Favors the Prepared Mind

Now it doesn’t have to be this way. There’s no reason why your business has to live month-to-month with no real guiding philosophy or mission. Here’s the secret: Running a successful business is not rocket science. Nearly anyone can do it.

Surly you’ve met some at least one successful business owner that you were certain that you were smarter than. You probably wondered, “How can this mental midget run a successful company, while I can barely stay employed?”

Frankly, I don’t know how your acquaintance does it — maybe he or she inherited the business.

What I do know is how I manage to do it. And trust me, I’m no brain surgeon. So what’s my secret? It’s simple: I rely on management consultants. Most business owners do. That’s why they’re still in business.

The way I see it, who needs a prepared mind, when I can rent one at a very reasonable cost? It’s the opportunity that I’m seeking, after all, I’m not trying to earn an MBA. Right?

Building a relationship with a good management is often the difference between a flourishing business and a dream that went splat.

Making you into a Manager

Most entrepreneurs jump into a business with big ideas and lots of optimism. Typically, it’s not enthusiasm that we lack, it’s discipline… and probably foresight too. I mean, why else would we have been so enthusiastic about starting a business? Just kidding.

That’s why it’s so important to seek wise council. A good small business management consultant can help you craft a plan that set realistic goals and benchmarks. A management consultant will plan for setbacks, refunds, and unexpected costs that an inexperienced business owner wouldn’t foresee or know to plan for.

More often than not, it’s not the product that drops a business dead in its tracks. It’s unexpected costs and unexpected revenue hiccups during the growth process. These are exactly the reasons most small business owners need a management consultant.

You can’t do it all yourself, so stop pretending that you can be all things to all people all the time. Sorry to be the one to break it to you, but you don’t score 100% in every aspect of management.

Believing that you somehow aced the management test is a sure sign that you’re in over your head. If you want your organization to grow, you can’t approach ever challenge alone. It’s a trap that you don’t want to find yourself in, trust me. If at no other times at all, every successful business needs management consulting during two phases.

Start-up and No Man’s Land

These are two of the most often written about stages of business development, but for very different reasons.

Most entrepreneurs love to fantasize about the start-up phase, mainly because it seems like the sky’s the limit and there are few if any limitations on where your business might be able to go. It’s an exciting time in the life of a business because it’s’ where you put your concept into action, finally getting real world feedback.

Obviously, start-up is also the time in which planning is absolutely essential. This includes staffing, strategic partnerships, and financial forecasts.

For any right-brained idea-man, or idea-woman, who’s launched a start-up, it becomes immediately apparent that you’re in over your head. If you’re overly meticulous, you may find yourself completely bogged down in routine tasks, never having enough time to develop new strategies and processes.

In either case, the clock is ticking and you’ll soon find out if you can hack it all by yourself…

Or you can do the smart thing and hire someone to teach you to become a better manager. Business management consulting is a great way to elevate your game quickly, by outsourcing the learning curve to someone who’s already been there and done that.

No Man’s Land is an entirely different story. Just as the name implies, this stage in the growth of a business is not so fun or exciting. It’s the point at which you business has grown large enough to no long be considered “small,” but is far from being “big” either.

No Man’s Land is the point at which you have to scale up and go big, or else begin to atrophy. In many ways, it’s a lot like the start-up phase, without all the illusions that made it so thrilling.

Because it involves even more fundraising, organizational efficiency, and staffing, No Man’s Land is where a business management consultant becomes no longer necessary, but mandatory.

Creating the Business You Want to Run

The best part about a good business management consultant is that they become an asset, rather than a cost. The changes they suggest should make you money, or at the very least free up time or money that can be better leveraged elsewhere.

After a basic, surface level analysis, it’s easy for any veteran consultant to spot the weaknesses in your market position. I hate to burst your bubble, but they’re there, even if you can’t see them.

A consultant should be able to analyze the marketplace your business operates in and offer up suggestions that will put your business in a better competitive position.

With better positioning, you company will become more marketable. With redundancies and other bottlenecks eliminated, your business will reduce costs, increase production, and become more profitable.

That’s why I always tell people that a good small business management consultant is a business asset. Rather than costing you money, a good consultant will make you money. Over the long run they’re advice will be worth exponentially more than it cost to acquire it.

With the right management and guidance, your company can become a mission driven machine that runs smoothly and rallies around the cause or purpose you initially envisioned. Businesses that are built to deliver on a clear purpose or goal are actually much easier to grow and maintain than a hastily cobbled together organization.

It’s really not all that surprising, when you think about it. Many of the biggest, most profitable companies in the world, the Apples, the Nordstroms, the Whole Foods, etc. are also the most inspiringly single-minded.

That’s the kind of business you originally wanted to own anyway.

Article shared in it’s entirety from “The Raymond Aaron Group”: http://aaron.com/2012/04/25/why-you-need-a-small-business-management-consultant/

Scared Money?

Have you heard the expression: “scared money, don’t make money”? Aside from the broken English…this is true.

Even in the poker dictionary (referenced because of the “strategy”  involved with success in both poker and business), the term “scared money” has to do with a player whose lack of confidence allows him/her to be bullied out of their winnings.

In today’s economy, we have an upsurge of professionals who are moving out of corporate America and into their own home offices for various reasons.  Ideally, this new framework will allow  a peaceful existence where every honest and skilled business person will flourish.  However, as with any grouping of people, we  must contend with the “wolves” and “sheep” among the bunch.  Figuratively speaking, wolves will prey, sheep will be preyed upon, and those in the middle will be shadowed by the dust cloud of poor business management and the resulting “scared money” practices that will lurch forward by those who’ve been prey upon.

This means that in order to be successful, you have to understand your strength and exhibit your confidence in both your services and your business management savvy….or else fall victim to those who(maliciously or not) place your payment very low on their priority list.

Unfortunately, this happens most often when a project was informally launched (no contract), has already been completed, and the “promise” of more work (for you, from the client) has been conversationally introduced to the realm of your decision making.

Here’s the bottom line as I see it: Work without pay is called volunteering.

Volunteering is a GREAT thing and sincere pro-bono work within your field of expertise can materialize into significant and well-suited paid opportunities. I advocate and encourage such community-focused and strategic steps when it comes to growing your business and increasing your professional skill/experience-based value.

The key is make you volunteer work, clear…and your paid work, even more so.

At all costs, formalize your contractual work with written agreements that highlight payment and deliverable requirements; and be sure to manage your invoicing with a process that is transparent and unbiased. Good clients will see this as a “plus”, appreciate your professionalism, and recognize that the documentation protects them, too. (Clients reluctant to do so, warrant a “side-eye” … see my previous post on recognizing good client potential)

That said, once you have secured the contract, provided the project, and sent a timely invoice and report.  Get paid.

Resist the inclination to be fearful or lackadaisical in collecting payments for the sake of hoping to “earn” more business. Remember that successful business operations are facilitated with shared respect by all parties.   You may have to “work it out” by being communicative and open to slightly adjusted payment arrangements, but by all means… have the conversation, provide the documentation, and insist upon due payment.

Here is an article from USA Today on cutting costs resulting from deadbeat clients you might enjoy.

Feedback, testimonies, and tips are always welcome.

Until next time…..

“Mompreneur” To Be or Not To Be? (Update: Food For Thought)

Update:

According to this Forbes Magazine article, blogs that encourage women to focus only on themselves or other women with their marketing, outreach and professional development are:

  1. Limiting
  2. Hypocritical, and
  3. Have nothing to do with reality.

——–

June 6, 2011

Are you a Mompreneur?

Let’s start with the definition.  Oh wait, there isn’t “one”.….

Online you’ll find variations of the obvious “a female Entrepreneur
who is also raising children” as women worldwide discuss their views of the
term.  You’ll also find (what you already know) that some women fully embrace and even build their brand around the term, while the opposite extreme (women who are appalled by the potentially discriminatory term) is equally expressed.

Here is my take:  I land somewhere in the middle leaning more toward the side that doesn’t much care for the term.  On one hand, I understand that in the best intended use, the term pays homage to the double (triple, quadruple, etc.) duty that Entrepreneurs, who are active Mothers, “play” and the increased value (maybe) of their success due to additional challenges they’ve had to overcome that may not be an issue to non-mothers.

But (even as I type) the above paragraph reads like a disability statement for an 8(a) application, and while I do fully encourage use of programs for which you qualify (this applies to all business owners…), I’m just not sure that I would choose to brand/promote myself with a term that categorizes me as an “Entrepreneur with challenges”.

After all, don’t we all have challenges that we must push through to be successful?  Should my husband be called a Dadpreneur? My colleague cares (full time) for her elderly grandmother while building a business. She doesn’t have children. What would we call her?

Get my point?  The slope is slippery and it gets messier the deeper you travel….

Clarity Note: I respect a woman’s right to choose. So, please don’t take offense from my perspective.  As a matter of fact, if you disagree with me….YOU are the one I want to hear from, so please everyone comment and tell me:

What about you? Are you a Momprenuer?

“Mompreneur” To Be or Not To Be?

Are you a Mompreneur?

Let’s start with the definition.  Oh wait, there isn’t “one”.….

Online you’ll find variations of the obvious “a female Entrepreneur
who is also raising children” as women worldwide discuss their views of the
term.  You’ll also find (what you already know) that some women fully embrace and even build their brand around the term, while the opposite extreme (women who are appalled by the potentially discriminatory term) is equally expressed.

Here my take:  I land somewhere in the middle leaning more toward the side that doesn’t much care for the term.  On one hand, I understand that in the best intended use, the term pays homage to the double (triple, quadruple, etc.) duty that Entrepreneurs, who are active Mothers, “play” and the increased value (maybe) of their success due to additional challenges they’ve had to overcome that may not be an issue to non-mothers.

But (even as I type) the above paragraph reads like a disability statement for an 8(a) application, and while I do fully encourage use of programs for which you qualify (this applies to all business owners…), I’m just not sure that I would choose to brand/promote myself with a term that categorizes me as an “Entrepreneur with challenges”.

After all, don’t we all have challenges that we must push through to be successful?  Should my husband be called a Dadpreneur? My colleague cares (full time) for her elderly grandmother while building a business. She doesn’t have children. What would we call her?

Get my point?  The slope is slippery and it gets messier the deeper you travel….

Clarity Note: I respect a woman’s right to choose. So, please don’t take offense from my perspective.  As a matter of fact, if you disagree with me….YOU are the one I want to hear from, so please everyone comment and tell me:

What about you? Are you a Momprenuer?

Sharpen Your “360 Degree Perspective”

(Imagine Your Next Strategy Session Taking Place Here….*ahh*)

As Entrepreneurs (Consultants, Sales Professionals, etc.) we are constantly encouraged to hone our vision and be forward thinking.  Rightfully so… but what happens when your focus is so progressive that you lose sight of the opportunities and lessons that are, literally, right next to you?

Don’t allow tunnel-vision (the evil twin of “focus”) to limit your options; stay in tune with the world around you…especially what’s going on “around you” in your own backyard.

——-

The most effective marketing involves “direct contact” and this direct contact often happens in unplanned scenarios where your “elevator speech” simply doesn’t fit (or would be annoyingly formal in the grocery store checkout line…). This is where your “360 degree perspective” comes into play.

The ability to engage in conversation about news, events, and other “trending” talking points is uber-important to being a well-rounded “advisor” and someone who wants to be remembered as an intriguing resource to a potential client. Challenge yourself to stay up-to-date with news relevant to your industry and your community (not just what comes across your desk.)

How? This is what I do:

Read OFTEN.  (I have a “resources” line item in my business budget for books, magazines, newspapers, etc. and I find time weekly to catch up.) Here are two of my favorite reading resources that you can access, as well:

  • Next News Daily via HireAlexis: This tool generates an online “newspaper” that allows me the pleasure of reading through an organized presentation of tweets posted by the profiles I follow on Twitter.  Since I follow a fair share of “locals”, this works for my “360DP” and provided bonus commentary from those with perspectives I respect.  The paper is publically published for others to read and features certain profiles on each publication, but for the most part, I am probably the largest beneficiary for now.  My paper keeps me in the loop. (You can set up, customize, and share your own paper, for free at www.paper.li)
  • Baltimore Business Journal: My local business journal is an excellent resource.  The news and event features are impressively diverse within its overarching relevancy for Baltimore-area businesses and professionals while it also features “industry-specific” lists and other resources according to a published schedule. Speaking of lists….as a tangible bonus to the featured articles… every edition of the Business Journal also offers multiple pages of contact information for leads in key categories.  (Check out the Business Journal in your city at  http://www.bizjournals.com/)

What resources do you use to maintain your “360 Degree Perspective” on life/work and stay in touch with your community?