Saturday, April 30, 2016

4 Major Benefits of Working from Home

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The flexibility and freedom of working from home far outweigh any financial benefit, research reveals.

In a survey conducted by Reed Commercial, 400 home workers were asked what benefits they had seen from working in this way. Flexibility was the most popular reason given, by 55% of the respondents, more than one-third loved the lack of commute, one-quarter saw a better work-life balance, one-sixth prefer the home environment to a conventional office and one-in-eight prefer to work solo, without a boss and/or colleagues, according to the respondents.

Way down the list of benefits is that working from home is a cheaper option with fewer overheads, which was cited by one in ten of the respondents, and only one respondent said they work from home as they make more money. It’s clear that the social benefits of home working are more important than the financial benefits to these workers.

So, why is flexibility so important to home workers? We’ve taken another look at the responses and here are four key reasons:

Family Matters

Many of the respondents appreciate that home working allows them to be there for their family. Whether it’s the school run, reducing childcare costs or just being able to see more of their family, particularly during the school holidays, at-home workers feel the benefit.

Flexible Working Hours

Choosing when you work is a big bonus for home workers. Whether you’re a night owl or an early bird, you can work to a schedule that suits you. One respondent said: “It’s actually very convenient to work from home because of the flexibility and I can work when I’m most alert, and help out clients by being available out of normal office hours.”

Improved Productivity

Think home workers doss around all day in their pajamas? Think again. Employees who work from home said they felt more productive in the home environment because they are not wasting time with the daily commute, for example. One respondent said: “[You are] more productive as you can make your working environment meet your needs. [You] can plan your day, prioritizing work.” Other responses said the home office is more productive as there are fewer interruptions from colleagues, and you can work in a quiet and peaceful environment.

Multitasking

Another strong theme in the responses is the ability to multitask. Home workers can do a little housework, walk the dog, will be in for important deliveries and can make medical appointments without having to travel to and from the office, for example.

There are many reasons why flexibility is so important to so many people. These advantages are as diverse as the people who benefit from them. The research also puts forward a pertinent point to employers—instead of offering an employee a pay rise, would they prefer to work from home on a part-time or full-time basis? It’s worth asking and could result in the company seeing the associated cost savings and a happier workforce.

Author: Sandy Purewal is Marketing Executive at Reed Commercial. Reed Commercial specialize in matching individuals to the right business franchise for them.

Reclaiming Your Time is the Best Productivity Hack

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Managing time while still staying productive is becoming a major challenge for everyone, yet millions of working professionals continue to face this problem every day. While balancing home and the workplace is always tedious, finding enough time at the office to meet targets and deadlines can prove to be more challenging than ever. Any working professional, regardless of the industry, needs to find ways to save more time at work and still enhance productivity. When you save time, you increase your productivity.

Below are some effective tricks that can save you more time at your workplace while still hitting the peak of productivity:

Advance Planning

It may sound basic to most working professionals, but when you plan in advance, saving time becomes easier, thus allowing you to utilize that saved time. This applies to everything, starting with the daily commute to getting things done at home in the morning before you leave for your office. In some cases, you may utilize your spare time at home to perform online activities that can help you get started on your next day in the office, such as preparing email drafts and accessing data.

Using Apps

It is incredibly difficult these days to find working professionals who do not use smartphones. You can use apps to save time at your workplace and remain productive throughout the day. Some software has app versions that will keep you updated when you use them. This is true for email services, presentation apps, PDFs and many more. By using apps on your tablet or smartphone, you remain in sync with workplace developments on shared projects even when you are on the move. This eventually helps you stay prepared for the next day’s workload.

Using Cloud Services

When you work on projects or in collaborative setups in an organization, using Cloud services can be extremely helpful in saving time and boosting productivity. Sharing project data and assets in cloud storage makes it simpler for everyone involved to access and update them. The latest cloud services come with backup and encryption features so that the safety of the data is not compromised. All you need is an internet connection and a device to access the services.

Using Reminders

Despite your best efforts, sometimes you may find that you are forgetting certain things at your workplace that may lead to a delay and reduced productivity. You may also have experienced having to spend extra time doing those things, resulting in a decrease in the quality of your work. Using reminders is a smart way to ensure that you do not forget upcoming tasks, because you can wrap them within a stipulated time or deadline. Reminders can be used in a number of different ways, from using sticky notes on the office or cubicle wall to setting software reminders via PC or smartphone.

Habit Alterations

Altering workplace habits can help you extract more time from your work hours resulting in a boost of productivity levels. This can seem small but the benefits will add up in the long run. Getting food at your office cafeteria or ordering take-out saves you time during your lunch hours. Make it a habit to not spend more than a few minutes during the occasional smoking break. Employees tend to find the lure of gossiping or chatting during such breaks irresistible, which can take up a considerable amount of time.

Discipline and professional work habits will reclaim lost time. While different work setups and requirements exist across various organizations, using technology helps to save time. More important, establishing productive work habits and adhering to them will benefit you the most. Staying organized and maintaining a neat and clean work space also helps in boosting productivity levels. The less clutter you have, the more time you save and the more targets you accomplish with ease.

Author: Sam Makad is a marketing consultant at Skyward ERP. He helps small and medium businesses to grow their ROI by providing innovative technology solutions.

Are You Ready to Podcast?

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According to Wikipedia a podcast is a collection of digital media files distributed over the internet using syndication feeds for playback on portable media players and personal computers.

Here’s my definition. A podcast is an incredible marketing tool and a great way to generate new leads for your business. It can enhance your marketing in many ways. People consume podcasts in a big way.

Apple reports over a billion subscriptions to podcasts via iTunes and they’re hardly the only access point. It’s estimated that over 31 million Americans are regular podcast listeners.

Branding: An effective podcast series is an excellent way to reach our generation’s tech-savvy consumers. Podcasts can be used to position your company as an industry leader, assuming your content is relevant and timely for your target audience.

Lead Generation & Lead Nurturing: These seem to be buzzwords for the coming year. People are thinking more and more about their sales cycle and how to keep moving prospects closer to the sale. Podcasts are a smart way to keep prospects engaged with your brand while you earn their trust by demonstrating your expertise.

External Communications: No matter who you need to stay in touch with—investors, board members, the media, industry pundits, or your current customers, a podcast is a simple and interesting way to do that.

Website Content Improvements: Want your website to be seen as an important resource? Adding content like podcasts will not only add stickiness to your site, but Google and the other search engines will love that you’ve got a mix of media on your site.

If those benefits have you thinking that it might not be a bad plan to think about adding a podcast series to your marketing efforts, then stay with me. I want to give you some tips on attracting and keeping an audience. But even if you follow all of these suggestions, you’re going to have to be a little patient. This isn’t a marketing tactic that you try once or twice and then figure it didn’t work.

Don’t even start this if you aren’t going to give it a good year to take seed and grow. Here are a few ways to help make that happen.

Keep it Short: Most people will have an attention span of 15-30 minutes at the most for any given topic. Don’t be afraid to be brief. Even a 5-10 minute podcast can be very effective. One way to do that is to remember—one podcast, one key message.

Use MP3 for your file format: Most rich media players can play an MP3 formatted file. You can offer other options as well, as long as MP3 is there.

Let Them Subscribe: Don’t count on your audiences continually coming back to your site. Give them subscription options so every time you produce new content, they receive it automatically.

Teach, Don’t Sell: I know this is tough, but if your podcast is a sales speech, no one will stick with you. If you think about what you could teach your prospects and give them that education freely, they’ll gladly endure a little information about your product or service.

Putting together a podcast series does take some effort. But it can yield incredible results too. You can use the same podcast with many different audiences and you can even slice and dice some of the content into blog posts, sales material and other marketing tools. Why not give it a try?

The Power of Three: Solving Critical Issues

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Let’s say you have been told by your board, by your chairman, CEO, or direct leader to solve three problems you identify and report back within a month showing progress—or that you have solved these three.

First, you’d worry that this is an artificial way to focus management. Why three? Why now? After a short moment, you’d turn into action mode, perhaps calling in senior staff for a brainstorming session.

So you identify the three most critical issues, perhaps with the help of the group. What next? Here comes the important part.

Define success: Think of what an ideal outcome would look like and find metrics to measure progress along the route.

Create milestones: Make them public, easy to identify when reached, and follow progress toward each, again publicly posting the progress and achievement.

Simplify the process: Reexamine the definition and milestones. Find ways to make each step clear and simple enough for all to understand and follow. Err on the side of oversimplification. Remember that this exercise has a time limit for completion.

Set expectations for each participant, clearly listing the expected outcome for each person and department, asking them to define the steps they will make toward completion and how they will measure each.

Measure the outcomes. Was the intent to remove a barrier? Increase marketing effectiveness? Increase sales closing rate? Reduce manufacturing or shipping errors? Speed the processes? Measure how each of the three resulted in a gain, and publicly report the outcome.

Finally, celebrate the wins with the whole team. Never forget to celebrate, compliment, reward. Just three critical issues that will have led to three positive outcomes. Now that would be a good month for any of us. Why not try it now?

Creating Platform-Specific Content: JustFly’s Guide to Finding Your Audience

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Content marketing isn’t about just writing great content and hitting ENTER. With the wave of different platforms that are out there, content needs to be tailor-made to the medium you are using to broadcast it.

While some platforms have very stringent limits hardcoded into the experience (I’m looking at you, Twitter), other platforms simply require a moment or two of thought to optimize. In order to get the skinny on what you need to do to make your content shine no matter where you are publishing it, I spoke with JustFly, an online travel agency. JustFly has been incorporating new content strategies that have made a noticeable impact on their bottom line. I asked them how they prepare for different platforms when creating online content.

Facebook

The blood that flows through the veins of Facebook is interaction. Content for Facebook needs to be designed to be interactive. While being a less direct CTA (call to action) than Twitter, Facebook-specific content needs to encourage users to do something, while providing images, links, and supporting content to excite readers.

Bear in mind, Facebook does have an effect on Google Rankings, as witnessed in JustFly’s review, but not by using backlinks. Instead, it is hypothesized that Google ranks Facebook based on engagement, so make that content interactive!

Twitter

From a wide-open platform to easily the most limiting, Twitter is famous for its brevity. That 140 character count can be ominous when you are trying to cram your message into such a small count. Luckily, Twitter isn’t about enthralling content, it’s about building efficient bridges.

JustFly says that 99% of the time, you can think of Twitter posts as simply a giant link. As an aggregator, it is your job to write content that makes it stand out, and stand out quick. In terms of simple guidelines, JustFly tends to lean on 100 characters for content, and 40 characters for links and hashtags. This should allow you to get everyone moving in the right direction.

One last important Twitter tip: When it comes to shortening links, always use bit.ly. It is statistically proven to be more likely to be retweeted.

LinkedIn

LinkedIn is all about demographics. While Twitter and Facebook posts are written for a very general audience and should be simple to understand, it is reasonable to believe that more technical and niche content can be acceptable on LinkedIn. While it may reach a narrower base of your audience, this specialized content is more likely to be shared, due to its specialist nature. In terms of general content, it should be brief and to the point, as your readership more than likely includes busy people with less time on their hands than your average Facebook audience.

Prevent These Common Franchise Challenges

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Small business owners have come to understand the importance of having a strong online presence. A well-designed website and top positioning on search engines are particularly essential to this effort. But, small franchise businesses have some extra challenges stemming from the specific standards and rules set by the franchisor in order to create a consistent brand. This is often overlooked and can make it difficult for a franchisee to be creative and control their message or develop a unique marketing strategy.

Take a peek at NetSearch Direct’s infographic which highlights these challenges, provides some interesting franchise business facts and offers the solution of having an approved marketing vendor experienced at meeting the goals of both sides.

NSD Franchise Marketing Infographic

Author: NetSearch Direct is a full service Digital Marketing agency located in Richmond, Virginia, specializing in SEO, PPC and Web Design. Our staff is dedicated to providing honest, measurable results for small businesses and franchises with a personal touch.

Why Your Business Needs a Social Media Calendar

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Social media posts can be rushed last-minute jobs. “Writer’s block” can be a problem. You might be worried about a lack of engagement, or just need a dose of guidance about what to post and when.

All of these are reasons why you should set up a social media calendar. This can streamline your social media marketing campaign, and give your followers a regular and consistent stream of content, planned in advance, stopping you from scrambling to get content ready to post.

What is a social media calendar?

Social Media Calendar

Quite simply, a social media calendar is a schedule for your social media posts, which may or may not follow seasonal festivals, holidays and other significant dates. It can take many different forms. The example to the left is a very simple design, akin to an instruction list, for a blog, and Twitter and Facebook accounts.

Others follow a weekly-themed pattern, something of which you might have seen employed on social media: ‘Monday Motivation’; ‘Tuesday Tip’; ‘Throwback Tuesday’; ‘Follow Friday’, and etc. The posts for each day follow that theme.

When managing multiple accounts or planning into the future, experts often use spreadsheets, to temporarily store their posts. Major social networks, like Facebook and Twitter, now offer their users the ability to schedule posts into the future, ensuring that a regular stream of content reaches their fans.

Key components of a social media calendar

Your social media calendar should be founded on a tried and tested platform, based around two variables (which vary, depending on the application):

  1. Content that resonates most with your followers, e.g. image, video or certain type of post. Different tools can provide ideas about the most socially shared content on a particular subject (see Feedly, Scoop.it and Buzzsumo).
  2. Content posted at the most appropriate time of the day, at the most effective time interval (e.g. 2-3 times a week).This article shows the most active times on the major social networks, recommending when you should post.

These variables, you should work out for yourself, testing to see what content and time best works for you, data which can be garnered from social media monitoring tools (e.g. Facebook Insights). For those starting up, who don’t have this information available, it is recommended to experiment with different times, and focus on posting images, links and videos (which have a much higher engagement rate).

Here’s a great FREE to use social media calendar with ready-made example, available to use how you like!

Social media calendar tools

You can use any basic scheduling, spreadsheet or word processor tool for your social media calendar (e.g. Google Calendar, or Google Sheets), but certain free and premium tools offer a more sophisticated or suitable medium, used as a standalone or in combination with other tools. Below, I will list a few of the most popular.

Hootsuite is a free/premium social media management tool, offering the ability to monitor and engage in conversations across multiple social networks, as well as scheduling and tracking social media posts.

www.hootsuite.com

Buffer enables you to streamline your social media marketing campaign by posting your content at the optimum times for you, spacing it out at appropriate intervals (automatically, with an optional manual feature). It can be used for multiple social media accounts as well, and offers a free version, as well as premium plans.

www.buffer.com

Sprout Social is a more business-orientated tool, focused on gaining engagement for your social media posts. It offers a smooth and powerful social media calendar feature. Prices start from $59 per month, with free trials also offered.

http://sproutsocial.com

Other options include AgoraPulse, SocialBro, Postling and Manageflitter.

Advice for Future Leaders

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Recently, for a magazine article on leadership, I was asked for my top three pieces of advice to future leaders:

The first was to understand that Dale Carnegie totally had it right 80 years ago when he wrote in his classic, How to Win Friends and Influence People, that, “Ultimately, people do things for their reasons, not our reasons.”

So, if you are casting a vision to which you want others to commit, you must first commit to them; not as cogs on the way to you accomplishing your goals, but to helping them to accomplish their goals. Align your vision with their wants, needs, desires, and values. Create an environment for them to grow. Practice giving leadership.

Secondly, to realize that earning trust will always be your most valuable personal asset. And, you do that by the way you commit to others genuinely and authentically. One way to accomplish this is by keeping your word, building others at every opportunity, standing for what is right, and always acting congruently with those values.

As Simon Sinek says in his fantastic book, Leaders Eat Last, “Trust evolves once we have enough evidence to satisfy our brain that a person or an organization is, indeed, an honest {entity}.”

Last, but certainly not least, it’s embracing the fact that leadership is never about the technology—it’s always about the people.

As Geoff Colvin discussed in his terrific book, Humans Are Underrated, the more advanced technology gets and the more that machines can do that humans cannot, the more important elements such as empathy, team-building, collaboration, and interpersonal relationships (you know, those “human things”) will become.

On this same basic topic, my awesome Go-Giver Series coauthor, John David Mann, shared a passage from Rachel’s Diary: http://bit.ly/1MpghdB

Those are our thoughts.

Now, what are YOUR big three (or two, or even just one)? What advice would you give to future leaders in order to help ease their path?

Feel free to share. Looking forward to an enlightening discussion.

Watch Out for Burnout

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“I wish I could go back and tell myself that not only is there no trade-off between living a well-rounded life and high performance, performance is actually improved when our lives include time for renewal, wisdom, wonder and giving. That would have saved me a lot of unnecessary stress, burnout and exhaustion.”

~Arianna Huffington

Burnout is one of those problems that affects so many people from workers to managers to owners. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) recently reported burnout was one of the top reasons people left their jobs.

In addition, the National Opinion Research Center reports 48% of workers experienced increased stress over the last five years, and this is bleeding over into their family lives as well. This statistic shows that burnout is not just a pervasive problem but also one that continues to grow over time.

I think burnout has become so common because technology has blurred the separation between work and other facets of life. These days, it is almost impossible to become untethered from work as our smartphones, iPads and computers are always nearby.

Burnout typically results when a person feels as though they are putting more into their work than they are getting out of it, and this can have some serious effects on health. Some mental health professionals, for example, have linked burnout to depression and a host of other issues.

Common symptoms of burnout include depression, memory issues, fatigue, loss of emotional control and loss of motivation in the work setting. Burnout will hammer you until you have trouble just getting up and going to work.

In my experience, a sure way to knowing if you are in danger of burning out is when friends and family start telling you that you have. These people are often an early warning system, so you should not ignore what they are telling you. Doing so could be quite dangerous for you.

The very best way to deal with burnout—or to avoid it altogether—is to disconnect from your technology. You can do this by turning off all your devices a certain number of hours every day and allowing yourself some down time.

As you might imagine, this is a rather unpopular suggestion among many managers and business owners. I frequently give seminars on time management, and this group usually rolls their eyes when I make this recommendation. They feel as though I am asking them to walk on fire, but in reality, they must find a way to do this if they want to avoid burning out.

Next to unplugging, you must ensure you are scheduling enough relaxation time every day. What is relaxing varies by individual, but basically, it is anything you enjoy doing that is not competitive. Maybe it is reading. Maybe it is going for a walk. Whatever it is, it should turn off the pressure cooker for a significant chunk of time each and every day.

Another thing you can do is take some time to get organized or pay someone to help you get organized. I know when I am organized, I feel like I can accomplish almost anything. When I am disorganized, however, I feel like almost anything is just too much.

Now go out and do a self-assessment to see if you are at or near. Then make a plan to incorporate some of the methods we talked about here to make your life less stressful.

You can do this!

5 Quick Tips to Increase Team Performance

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Increasing team performance is a common goal. There is always room for improvement and leaders are always trying to get more out of their team. Increasing performance is particularly important when leaders are new to an organization, have moved to a new department in a leadership role or have just assembled a new team for a project or initiative.

How do you set the foundation for a strong team to achieve their full potential?

There are 5 things to keep in mind:

  1. Create a Strong First Impression: Make sure that you start out strong. Come to the first meeting/introduction prepared to make a good first impression and establish expectations. How the team initially starts their working relationship has a huge impact on their long term interactions.
  2. Establish Expectations: Don’t assume people have shared expectations. Set expectations early—don’t wait until things are below your expectations and then try to rise them up. Starting high and keeping them high is easier than trying to raise expectations after they have settled in too low. Set ambitious goals together and then work hard to achieve your potential.
  3. Create a Sense of Importance: People perform better when they believe that what they are doing is important and will have a positive impact.
  4. Create a sense of Urgency: Create some urgency with specific interim delivery dates or milestones so the team has the opportunity to see the quick wins of completion of interim targets before the completion of the long term outcome.
  5. Deliver a Challenge: Decide to do something that isn’t easy, but requires something extra. Set goals that will challenge the team to exceed expectations and will spark a sense of pride in the team. When faced with a challenge, people are willing to step up and achieve more.

My Perspective: Successfully leading a team is a complex task. By keeping these 5 thoughts in mind you can motivate, inspire and lead your team to greater heights.