How to use images to improve customer engagement

Hand pointing at online streaming of imagesThe use of visual imagery is becoming an increasingly important part of online communication. The meteoritic growth  in social networking sites like Pinterest and Instagram illustrates just how significant images have become in increasing engagement and interaction amongst consumers.

Indeed, research shows that articles containing an image have, on average, 94% more total views  than articles without an image, indicating the power of a good image.

Psychologically, consumers love imagery, and seeing visually appealing things creates positive emotions. Most people — between 65 and 85 percent — also describe themselves as ‘visual learners,’ forming meaning and organizing thoughts based on what they see more so than what they read.” Trend Reports

According to Forbes, image-centric marketing will be one of the top online marketing trends for 2014. Therefore, understanding the potential benefits of images and using them effectively on your website and in your marketing can increase engagement and interaction amongst your customers. Images can help:

  • Grab people’s attention
  • Convey meaning quickly
  • evoke emotions
  • Illustrate a point
  • Make text-based articles more visually appealing by breaking up reams of text
  • Convey complex information in an easily digestible format (think infographics)
  • Showcase a product effectively online.

How to make the most of images online

Your website

The use of visual imagery on your website is essential. Not only are images valuable in terms of SEO, they are central in terms of engaging customers. Nobody is going to find a solely text-based website enticing. Using photos, illustrations, graphics, icons, infographics and videos are all great ways to improve the content of your website and as a result, increase its appeal to customers.

Your product pages are a key area to focus on, since images are one of the most important elements in a customer’s decision-making process. So, ensure you are using high-definition images and spend time thinking about how to showcase your products to their full advantage. Research shows:

  •  67% of consumers say that the quality of the image is very important when they are purchasing a product.
  • 63% of consumers  saying a good image is even more important than product specific information.

social media like imageSocial Media

Social media and images go hand-in hand, just look at the phenomenal success of Pinterest in recent years. Think about how you can use images to enhance your presence on all your social media sites.  For example,  when you are posting an update on Facebook, always  include an appropriate image, be it an update about a new product, service, staff change, industry news, special promotion or competition. Including an image will make it far more likely for your update to capture people’s attention and in turn generate more likes and comments.

Blogs

Putting an image right at the beginning of your blog post is a great way to pull readers in. A relevant  image can help readers understand what your post is about, help illustrate a point and stir-up an emotional response. Images are also a great way to break up text if you have a long blog. And don’t forget, images can also be used when you promote your blog post on your social media sites and in your email newsletters.

Infographics also work really well in blog posts. They’ve grown in popularity over recent years as they present statistics and research in an interesting, relevant and engaging way.

Email and Online Press Releases

People tend to skim through emails and online press releases, picking out the salient points. Therefore, using images is a great way to help you get your message across quickly, break up text and create engagement at the same time.

You Tube on ipadVideo marketing

And finally, don’t forget the moving image. Using video  is a great way to boost your search engine rankings (search engines love video).  It’s format is engaging and it is a great tool to use  if you need to educate or explain something to your customers – think product demonstrations and video tutorials. Just remember to put it up on YouTube as well as on your website.

What makes for a good image

Where possible try to avoid using staged business photos as you are more likely to capture people’s attention and get an emotional response by using real people, real-life situations, humour, interesting visuals or stunning photography. Take a look at which boards get the most re-pins on  Pinterest  and you’ll get a real feel for the type of images that really work.

Make sure you  add Alt Text to your images. This is essentially a concise and accurate description of the image and is used as alternative text when the image can not be displayed. This is important as:

  1.  it makes the image accessible to all users, including those that are visually impaired as screen readers can read the alternative text provided
  2.  it one of the factors that can help improve your SEO performance.

Sourcing images

There are plenty of low-cost  and free images available on the web, but if you are not using your own photos or images then you must be careful about copyright and get permission from the author. Look for royalty free stock images that are for commercial use. I’ve listed a few of the low-cost and free websites we use for images and they’ll  tell you whether an image requires an author credit or not.

FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Stock.XCHNG

Dreamstime

We’d love to hear your thoughts on this post, so please do leave a comment

Image streaming image courtesy of  nokhoog_buchacon at FreeDigitalPhotos.net 

Like button image courtesy of tungphoto at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

YouTube on Tablet image courtesy of Winnond at Freedigitalphotos.net

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Small business guide to marketing planning part 3: Objectives and strategy

world map and compassTo give your business direction and enable it to move forward, you need to have a clear idea of your goals, objectives and strategy . You may have a general idea of where you’d like your business to be in one, two or five years time, but without setting specific targets you may find you lose track of where you’re going and have no way to measure the success of what you are doing.

So, welcome to part 3 of our small business guide to marketing planning. In Part 1, we  looked at the importance of marketing planning and how using a framework such as SOSTAC can help you build your small business marketing plan. Part 2 discussed the first step in marketing planning – situational analysis and examined the question ‘Where are you now?’ This post looks at the importance of  setting objectives and how to formulate your strategy by thinking about ‘Where do you want to be?’ and ‘How do you want to you get there?’

Where do you want to be?

Having undertaken your situational analysis you should have a pretty solid idea about where your business currently stands. You’ll have a good understanding of your customers, the marketplace and your competitors.  You’ll also be aware of  your business’ strengths and weaknesses, alongside any opportunities or threats that may be on the horizon. All this analysis will help you mould your goals and objectives. These may include wider, long-term goals such as your business mission and vision as well as more specific short to medium term objectives.

So for example; say your situational analysis has identified that one of your weaknesses is that you have only a small database of prospective clients,  one of your goals over the year is likely to be to grow your database. Put into a specific short-term objective that you can focus your strategy and tactics around, your objective could be something along the lines of:

  • To increase ‘prospects database’ contacts by 25% by 30th June 2014.

SMART objectives

To make you your objectives both useful and relevant, you need to make them SMART. This way it is clear to everybody what the target you are progressing towards is.

  • Specific – objectives should be detailed and specific to a particular area – not vague or wishy-washy as that will make them impossible to measure.
  • Measurable – the objective should be able to be quantified.
  • Achievable – is the objective likely to be achieved or have you overestimated targets?
  • Realistic – do you have the resources, time, budget to make the objective happen?
  • Timely – you need to have a specific target time frame to work to.

How do you get there?

Now you know ‘where you want to be’ through setting clear goals and objectives, you need to think about how you’re going to get there. Strategy is driven by your situational analysis and is essentially about how you intend to go about meeting the objectives you’ve set.  So in our example our objective was to increase the number of contacts on our database. Therefore we are likely to want to drive more traffic to our website, which may well mean improving our search engine visibility and ranking. Our strategy will be thinking about the best ways to do this. This may include looking at:

  • Customer segmentation and target marketing strategy. Probably the key element when formulating your strategy is your customers and segmenting them into clearly defined customer groups by identifying the different behaviour and needs of each group. You will have looked at segmenting your customers as part of your situational analysis, so your strategy should then focus on how you intend to target your marketing to each customer segment.
  • Your positioning and OVP ( Online Value proposition): Where is your business positioned within the market and what is it that makes your e-commerce offering stand out from your competitors? How can you exploit this to your advantage?
  • Content strategy:  So if your strategy is to drive traffic to your website,  you will want to improve your search engine ranking and therefore you will need to look at SEO (search engine optimisation) . Content is absolutely central to SEO And so you will need to think about ways to improve your online content.

Your strategy is all about what actions are you going to undertake to ensure you achieve you objectives.  Your next step will be defining the tactics you are going to use (the tactics element of the SOSTAC framework will be part 4 of our marketing planning guide).

So, how does all this fit into the SOSTAC framework?

Going back to our earlier example objective of growing our prospective database, lets look at it in the context of the SOSTAC  framework :

Situational Analysis

1. Where are you now?

SWOT analysis  identified that the current prospects database was poor

Objectives

2. Where do you want to be?

SMART objective: To increase ‘prospects database’ contacts by 25% by 30th June 2014

Strategy

3. How do we get there?

 Strategy: To drive traffic to our website in order to data capture new names and achieve our objective of growing our prospects database by 25%.

Tactics

4. How exactly do we get there?

What marketing tactics will we use in order to drive traffic to our website and data capture new names for our database?

Actions

5. What is our plan – who is going to do what and when?

Who is taking responsibility for our tactics. What is the schedule and timeframe required in order to meet our objective’s deadline? What is the budget? What resources do we have?

Control

6. How are we going to measure our success?

We need to be able to measure our performance through analysis such as, KPI, web analytics, conversion rates in order to be able clearly measure whether we have met our objectives.

Part 4 of our Small Business Guide to Marketing Planning will be looking at marketing tactics.

Image courtesy of Keerati at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

We’d love to hear your experiences and thoughts on this post, so please do leave a comment

How small online businesses can benefit from post-Christmas sales

christmas salesThink ahead to the post-Christmas sales

Retailers have been predicting very healthy sales in the run up to Christmas this year, perhaps no more so than online where research forecasts a 20% increase year-on-year.

Online sales are forecast to hit £5bn this Christmas, an increase of almost 20% on last year, while total sales over the festive season will top £40bn, a rise of 3.5% on 2012, according to forecasts from Deloitte where forecast for online sales are up 20%Guardian Business News

In the excitement and frenzy that is all part and parcel of Christmas, it can be hard to think ahead to the post-Christmas sales. However, it is important that small businesses are prepared for the post-Christmas sales period before they go off on their Christmas break. Unprecedented growth and increased access to mobile devices, has seen the traditional ‘January Sales’ shift to December as people go online earlier and earlier to grab a post-Christmas bargain. According to research from Econsultancy,  last Christmas saw Boxing day as the busiest in terms of traffic and sales through mobile phones peak on Christmas day.

Benefits of post-Christmas sales for small businesses

Post-Christmas sales are an opportunity to clear seasonal stock, excess stock and unwanted stock.  It is also a great time to capture bargain hunters and people with Christmas gift vouchers that they are itching to spend!

In addition, research shows that the average order value increases post-Christmas. Econsultancy found that last year people were adding higher priced items and more products to their baskets after Christmas than in the lead up to Christmas. As a consequence they found that the Average Order Value (AOV) increased. Last year January 1st saw the peak with an AOV of £77.69.

Be prepared – plan your post-Christmas sales before Christmas

With the Christmas sales starting earlier each year,  it is important that you are as organised as you can be before Christmas. This way you are ready to press the button to go live as soon as you need to be. Being prepared beforehand allows you to enjoy your Christmas break and not lose valuable shopping hours. So think about:

  • Stock – What stock do you plan to offer deals on? For example identify what stock hasn’t been shifting as well as expected in the run up to Christmas and stock you have excess of that you would like to be rid-of. Think about your pricing. It is important you know what your product margins will be now you are offering products at a lower rate.
  • Website – prepare your website so it is ready to go live for the post-Christmas sales. Make it clear on the home-page that you are having a sale. Your sale items should be listed clearly up front so they are easy for people to find. Many online retailers list their biggest discounted products at the top to entice consumers in. For example see Boden’s online sale where the highest percentage discounts are listed first.
  • Shipping and Delivery – plan your shipping and delivery ahead. Remember you are selling your stock at reduced prices so your profit margins are going to be lower. Factor in shipping and delivery costs when you are working out your discounts.  For example using free delivery or reduced rate delivery as an enticement may not be a viable option as you may end up selling at a loss.

Tips for your promotions.

Just like your website, get your promotional communications designed and ready before Christmas. This way you’ll be able to send out promotions to customers the minute your sale goes live.

Use all your online tools to spread the word to your customers – there is no point in having a sale if your customers remain unaware of it.  Email your customers with news of your sale, enticing them in with a showcase of your top offers. Announce your sale and special offers on all your social media platforms.

Use a ‘drip marketing’ technique for the duration of the sale period. This is where you can plan a series of sequential communications to coincide with the relevant offers you have planned. For example send out a series of strategically timed communications that will pull customers into your website for the entire post-Christmas sales period:

Sale now on

Up to 40% off

New lines added

Up to 50%

Last chance to grab a bargain

Sale extended for a few days only

Sale ends midnight tonight

The post-Christmas sales can be a profitable time for your small business as long as you plan ahead and spend some time thinking strategically about what you are going to do. This way you’ll hopefully be able to increase your sales and AOV, get rid of unwanted and excess stock and avoid any of the nasty surprises associated with lower profit margins.

We’d love to hear your experiences and thoughts on this post, so please do leave a comment

Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono at freedigitalphotos.net

12 days until Christmas – essential tips to help small businesses survive Christmas

12 days of christmasWith just 12 days until Christmas Eve, we thought we’d start the countdown to Christmas by sharing our 12 favourite tips to help you make the most of the 2013 festive season.

According to a survey by the National Retail Federation , the average person plans to do 40% of their Christmas shopping online. Online sales are forecast to hit £5bn this Christmas which is an increase of  almost 20% on 2012.    So, clearly Christmas 2013  is shaping up to be a fantastic season for retailers with unprecedented online sales.

So join us in our Christmas countdown and take a look at what we think are the best tips to help you survive the run up to Christmas.

Chritmas shopping trolleyTip 1. It’s not too late to increase your online Christmas sales

The clock is ticking as we speed towards the midway point in December. However, as a good proportion of us are still shopping right up until Christmas Eve, it’s not too late to make the most of the opportunities the Christmas season offers to increase your sales.

Indeed, according to the National Federation of Retailers, 20% of consumers don’t even plan to start their Christmas shopping until December. So don’t worry there is still time  to entice customers in. For example, creating a Christmas feel to your website can get shoppers in the  purchasing mood.  Inspire them with great gift ideas and offer special Christmas promotions such as buy one, get one half price or free delivery.

For more tips on increasing your online sales this Christmas have a look at our recent blog post ‘7 tips to boost your online sales this Christmas’  

british postboxTip 2. Christmas shipping & delivery

Be very clear on your Christmas shipping and delivery dates. Flexible delivery is great but don’t promise delivery in time for Christmas if it’s simply not possible.

Check delivery dates with all your distributors and ensure your last guaranteed Christmas  delivery dates are clearly visible on your website.  This will save a lot of angry calls and bad feeling from the frustrated customers who haven’t received the deliveries they’re expecting. In fact you could  use your last delivery dates as sales tool by reminding customers to make that purchase before it’s too late.

And for your interest, if you’re posting within the UK, Royal Mail’s last Christmas posting dates for 2nd class mail is Wednesday 18th December and 1st class is Friday 20th December. Royal Mail Special Delivery Guaranteed is Monday 23rd December.

NewspaperTip 3.  Spread the word – tell everyone about what your business is offering this Christmas

You may have a lots of great Christmas promotions in place but if you don’t tell your customers about them then there’s no point to all your hard work. You should be going all out promoting all your great products this Christmas. Make the most of your website, email newsletters, social media platforms to tell your customers about all your special Christmas promotions and all the inspiring gift ideas you have.

christmas card season greetingsTip 4. Send out a little Christmas spirit

The last posting dates for Christmas are fast approaching (Tip 2) so make sure you are going to be ready to send out seasonal greetings to clients and suppliers. Sending out Christmas greetings by a card (or if you are past the posting date an e-card) adds a personal touch to your business and shows both clients and suppliers that they are important to you.

small chrismas treeTip 5.  ‘Tis the season to be jolly

If you haven’t already done it then now is the time to get the tinsel out and jolly up your office. Creating a festive work environment is more likely to get you and your staff into the swing of Christmas. And, if Christmas means longer hours due to the heavier workload then it is far more motivating and uplifting to be in a festive environment than in an office devoid of any seasonal touches. And, for those of you one-man-bands out there, this applies to you too. A few festive nods around your workspace can make all the difference to your frame of mind!

social media like imageTip 6.  Make the most out of your social media

Most people are in the Christmas spirit a couple of weeks before Christmas so now is a great time to use your social media platforms to engage with customers. Social media is an excellent, low-cost way to communicate with customers on a more emotional level. It is a great way of  building brand awareness and brand personality. And, since people are likely to be feeling festive at this point in December why not add some fun touches like some Christmas themed quizzes, competition or games?

December calendarTip 7. Plan for a stress free break

Used to wearing multiple hats, it is often hard for small business owners to switch off  over the Christmas period.   However, spending time with friends and family and having the chance to properly relax and unwind is important both mentally and physically –  especially considering that small business owners often have to work 24/7.

To take the stress and worry out of taking a well deserved break, make a plan of what you need to do to enable you to fully enjoy your time off. For example, prioritize tasks in order of importance. What needs to be done before you go and what can wait until you get back? What can be delegated or outsourced? Sometimes just putting your worries and concerns down on paper is a useful exercise in itself as it can help you see the wood from the trees.

If you are unable to take a complete break, then plan a specific time slot each day to check emails and return pressing phone calls – but keep it as short as you can and only deal with issues that really can’t wait.

Man carrying pile of Christmas presentsTip 8.  Santa’s little helpers – be prepared for last-minute rush

Be prepared for a last-minute Christmas rush – there is always a significant proportion of shopping done online right up until the 23rd December. And, with flexible delivery options such as Click and Collect and Special Delivery, don’t rule out last-minute Christmas sales.

“With local services like Click & Collect, people can shop online with confidence right up until 23 December and pick up in store on Christmas Eve which could have a big impact on online shopping times”. Internet Retailing 

It is important to make sure you have enough help to fulfil any last-minute orders that may come in. Have family or friends on standby if necessary.

gold starTip 9. Offer excellent customer service at Christmas – it’s your chance to shine

In previous posts we’ve discussed just how important good customer care is especially for small businesses. December is likely to see increased customer queries and more than likely bring with it a few stressed customers. Keeping your cool by  remaining calm and courteous is essential.  If you have people other than yourself answering phones or replying to emails, make sure they are all fully briefed on the importance of offering excellent customer service. If you can continue dealing with queries efficiently and professionally over the Christmas period then it will only reflect positively on your business in the future.

If you need to free up some time then it is a good idea to put a ‘frequently asked questions’ section on your website and telephone answering service. This should contain information that is regularly asked for such as your last posting date, returns policy and Christmas hours. This will give you more time to answer more time-consuming queries.

Little girl with thumbs downTip 10.  Returns and exchanges – dealing with unwanted gifts

Just as Christmas brings with it a surge in online sales, January is likely to bring with it a surge in request for returns and exchanges. To avoid any confusion, make sure customers are aware of your returns policy when they make a purchase.  Clearly state it both on your website and on any customer correspondence such as on the invoice or  despatch note.

However, as a small business keeping existing customers is far more cost-effective than acquiring new customers so bear this in mind when it comes to returns and try to be as flexible as you possibly can. Sometimes it is better (and more cost-effective) in the long-term to just to accept an exchange (obviously within reason) than quibble with a customer over something minor. If you can do this, the customer is more likely to do business with you again in the future.

we are closed door signTip 11. Out of office

Sounds obvious but make sure you have communicated your businesses’ Christmas plans to your customers. If you aren’t going to be answering emails or calls at all over the Christmas period then make sure you’ve got an out of office message on your website, email and voicemail in place.  Let customers the office is closed and when you are going to be able to respond. If there is someone covering for you whilst you are away, then make sure their contact details are available.

If need be, mobile devices offer the opportunity to touch base with customers and answer any pressing issues whilst you are away from the office but as we mentioned earlier in tip 7 try to set aside specific times rather than letting it rule over your Christmas break.

Tip 12. Wishing you a very Merry Christmas – enjoy your well deserved breakmerry christmas stocking

Finally we would like to wish you a Happy Christmas – you deserve it. Running a small businesses can be hugely rewarding but with long hours it can be all-consuming. So it’s OK to switch off once in a while – in fact it’s essential.  And, since you’ve taken note of Tip 7 and planned you break you’ll be able to rest assured that you can enjoy a stress free break without the worry about your business.

Monster mistakes small businesses need to avoid

Frankenstein's monster

Monster Mistakes Small Businesses Should Avoid

Running a successful business is exciting, challenging and can be hugely rewarding. But a sad fact is that a high proportion of SME’s fail within their first few years, many from mistakes that could easily have been avoided.

All businesses are different and there is no one magic formula that will determine whether a business fails or succeeds.  However, avoiding some of the common mistakes made by small businesses and start-ups could make all the difference to long-term success and profitability.

Six common mistakes small businesses make

1. Lack of research

Launching a new business without undertaking  adequate market research is a surprisingly common mistake new businesses make. Often enthusiasm, coupled with a resolute belief in the viability of a particular product or service can mean the important area of research is overlooked. However, before you embark on any business venture it is essential that you have fully researched your market, your customers and your competitors. You must be able to answer questions like; where does your product or service fit into the current market? Who are your target market and what needs do they have? Who are your competitors and what are their strategies? You cannot make informed business decisions without a solid understanding of your market and insight into your customers and competitors.

2. Poor planning

It may not always be everybody’s favourite area of business management, but I can’t stress the importance of proper planning enough. Every business should have at the very minimum a business plan, financial plan and marketing plan. You cannot successfully move your business forward without proper planning in each of these key areas. There are plenty of free resources available (I’ve listed some below) that provide guides on how to put together useful and relevant planning documents for your business.

3. No clear goals

A number of SME’S find themselves floundering because they don’t really have a long-term goal for their business. Every business needs to have a clear vision of what they are working towards and what it is they want to achieve. Without this your business is likely to lack the direction it needs to enable it to move forward. Setting realistic long, medium and short-term goals and objectives will help you focus your precious time and effort into the important areas of the business. Of course goals and objectives are only useful if they  are realistic. So when setting them use the SMART acronym and make sure they are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely.

4. Poor understanding of finance and how it works

Many successful and profitable businesses have failed because they haven’t fully understood the financial elements of their business. You need to be able to manage and monitor business finance closely as it is all too easy lose track of where you are financially. Getting to grips with the monetary aspects of your business such as cash flow, contingency planning, budgeting, forecasting, invoicing and tax is essential. Either spend time learning about these elements yourself or call in some expert help. Either way finance not an area to be left to chance.

5. Overlooking marketing

Ignore marketing at your peril. A surprising number businesses make the mistake of assuming that their product is so amazing that it will sell itself and customers will simply come to them. Unfortunately that’s not how it works. You need to raise the visibility of your business in order to drive traffic and sales.  It is essential that you put time and resources into marketing strategy, planning and implementation. No matter how small your budget, with time and planning there are plenty of low-cost inbound marketing tactics you can undertake to help drive traffic and increase sales. Have a read of the attached blog from SmartInsights for a few helpful tips to get you started. http://www.smartinsights.com/digital-marketing-platforms/business-blogging/inbound-marketing-small-businesses-and-start-ups/

6. Trying to wear too many hats

As a small business owner it is tempting to try to do everything yourself which means you can end up putting all your time energy into areas that don’t warrant it. Don’t be afraid to outsource where you can. That way you can actually focus on the business  areas that you need to in order to move your business forward, rather than being bogged down in issues that someone else could quite easily manage.

Useful resources

There are plenty of free resources out there that can help you get started and equipped with the knowledge you need to avoid some of the common pitfalls that we’ve outlined above.

http://www.gov.uk/starting-up-a-business

http://www.gov.uk/business-finance-explained

http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/startingup/index.htm

http://www.smallbusiness.co.uk/starting-a-business/small-business-advice/2388358/planning-for-your-first-year-in-business.thtml

http://www.startupdonut.co.uk

http://www.smallbusiness.co.uk

We’d really love to hear your thoughts on this post, so please do leave a comment.

Working from home? 7 tips for successful time management

Alarm clock

Working from home offers some great benefits for small business owners. Potentially your working hours are flexible  – you can start early or finish late.  Plus, there is the added bonus of not having to build commuting times into your day. In theory, time is on your side and achieving all you need to in a day is a breeze. Or is it?

Stress effects productivity

In reality, and speaking from experience, more often than not most of us working from home feel we rarely achieve all we set out to do; spending more time on a work task than it warrants or distracted by bits around the house that ‘urgently’ need doing. Poor time management can make you feel out of control and stressed, which in turn affects your overall productivity.

Never enough hours in the day

Small business owners often feel that there are never enough hours in the day and have to juggle their precious time wearing multiple hats such as salesman, accountant, customer services, marketer and administrator.

Indeed a study from Mavernlink  found that small business owners:

  •  viewed ‘Time’ as their most valuable business asset – ahead or more tangible assets like a computer.

And when asked, small business owners found:

  • covering multiple jobs and lack of time were the most difficult aspects of managing a small business.

So, in an attempt to better manage my own time working from home I  scoured the internet for the time management tips that I felt were most likely to help keep me motivated and focused on the task in hand.

Seven simple techniques to help you better manage your time

1. Work out clear goals and objectives

It is often hard to see the wood from the trees when you are trying to juggle all sorts of business issues. Therefore, taking time out to create a clear picture of what it is you need to achieve can help you focus and plan effectively. An overall goal will help you implement useful medium and short-term objectives to plan your days around. Try using the SMART acronym when setting  your long, medium and short-term objectives, plan your goals and objectives to they are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timely.

Pile of paperwork2. Get organised

Don’t under-estimate the importance of an organised, clutter free work space. There is nothing more annoying or time-wasting than trying to locate a vital piece of paper buried under a huge pile of unfiled paperwork. Get a good filing system in place, sort out your paperwork into urgent, non-urgent, filing or recycling. A clear work space will also stop you procrastinating and thinking ‘I must tidy up’ rather than getting on with what’s on your to do list…

to do list3. To do list

Okay  an old, familiar one but still a really useful time-management tool if used properly. Creating a daily list of tasks, ranked  in order of priority and deadlines can help keep you focused on the key tasks of the day. It’s all too easy to spend time on the areas you enjoy and put off dealing with something that you find boring or difficult. Keep a single to do list that you can tick off tasks once they are done (which is actually surprisingly satisfying and motivating). Remember though, be realistic – only put down what can be feasibly achieved in a day – don’t put down a week’s worth of work.

3. prioritise

Learn to prioritise. We all find ways to put off tasks we don’t enjoy even if they are the most urgent or important. The NHS suggest that you should group your tasks into four categories with the aim of being able to become better at reducing the number of ‘important’ and ‘urgent’ tasks:

  • Urgent and important
  • not urgent but important
  • urgent but not important
  • neither urgent nor important

This way you will start being able to focus on non urgent important tasks and minimise the chance of them turning urgent.

do not disturb sign4. Do not disturb

I’ve just started not getting up every time my house phone rings. I was finding some days I’d be up and down like a yo-yo – usually for unsolicited and unwanted sales calls.  Now I figure that if it is important people will leave a message or call me on my mobile. It is  far more productive to try to schedule in time to answer non-crucial emails and telephone calls at a point that suits you, rather than continuously interrupting your workflow. If you have a busy household why not try putting up a ‘do not disturb’ when you have to get something important done.

5. Delegate

Where you can , delegate. Have a look at your workload to see if there some areas that really don’t need your input and could be delegated out. For example general correspondence, customer service, administration tasks or basic accounting. If you are a one man band then of course it is going to be difficult to delegate tasks, however if you can find a way to outsource some tasks externally then it can leave you more time tackle the more important and strategic areas you need to build your business.

6. Tools and Systems that can streamline your time

Implementing systems and processes for everyday tasks can help free up time.  For example if you deal with a large amount of similar customer service queries than think about putting a FAQ page on your website that you can direct typical queries to. Putting together formatted templates for standard emails or letters  will also help save time you time. Consider implementing customer relationship management software to help you manage  customer data and information more efficiently. Essentially, take a look at your business and see where systems and processes could be implemented to help free up your time and organise your business better.

coffee cup7. Take a break

Take regular  breaks from your workspace – it really does help productivity. When you have a lot on it is always tempting to stay at your desk and work through lunch. Although this can actually be counter productive. Taking a lunch break, perhaps getting 30 minutes fresh air will re-energise you ready for the next part of the day. According to the NHS:

“As a general rule, taking at least 30 minutes away from your desk will help you be more effective in the afternoon…go for a walk outdoors, or better still do some exercise, you’ll come back to your desk re-energised, with a new set of eyes and renewed focus”.

There is no magic wand for small business owners working from home that will give you the hours you feel you need in a day but hopefully implementing at least a few of these time management tips will help keep the stress at bay and give you back a little control.

We’d really love to hear your thoughts on this post, so please do leave a comment.

Images courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net: Alarm clock: Keattikorn, Old Documents: Nuttakit, To Do list: Stuart Miles, Do not disturb: Smarnad, Cuppa: Michelle Meiklejohn