7 Super Useful Resources for Busy Business Owners

7 Super Useful Resources for Busy Business Owners

We’re all busy right? In the fast-paced life we lead, it’s great when a tool comes along that helps us run our business more efficiently – the trouble is there are a lot of them out there which have little or no benefit to users and in fact end up wasting us a lot of time.

Every now and again I come across websites that are really helpful and increase my efficiency dramatically. I want to share a few of these with you today. It would be great if you could share any gems you’ve found in the comments so this post becomes a really useful resource for others.

So here are some tools that you can start using immediately.

Nudge Mail – I love this tool and as I get to know more about it I use it more often. This clever system allows you to email it (without any kind of signup procedure) with a date or time that you want the email sent back (i.e. a nudge). The possibilities are endless. I think I might write a more detailed post about it in the future. If you practice GTD this is a great tool for you.

Evernote – There’s not much you can’t do with Evernote. Setup folders for documents, scans, emails, clips from webpages, images and pretty much everything else you might want to organise. If you need a central place for putting things in ‘the cloud’ this is as good as any.

Remember The Milk – Online to-do lists. I’ve set mine up in GTD style. You can email directly to this online system which means when it gets there you can categorise it. I use a tagging system that helps me pick tasks I want to do according to my mood (i.e. If I am in the mood for lots of sales calls – I have a tag for calls)

Adwords Keyword Tool – If you blog then you need to consider what people might be searching for in the likes of Google. This useful tool is great for finding out what people are ‘actually’ searching for, not just what you think they might be doing. Simply take your findings and make sure you craft your titles and articles around them.

Dropbox – Emailing large files can be a real pain. Email servers normally have a limit of about 10mb on them and quite often you might need to get larger files to other places. I recommend dropbox which is free for upto 2gb of storage.

Survey Monkey – Are you looking to run an online survey? Perhaps you want to get feedback from clients. Survey monkey is a great website which makes building a survey very simple and gives you fantastic feedback data and graphs the other side.

Eventbrite – Running a seminar or event and want to invite people? Want to charge but don’t have your own credit card facility? This website allows you to create an event and set a price (can also be free) and invite people to book online. It takes all the hard work out of it for you.

Have you found this post useful? This is the sort of thing I’ll be sharing more regularly with my friends who signup to my email list. It would be great to see you there – just pop your name and email addy in to the box on the homepage on the right hand side.

Now Your Thoughts

  • What tools do you use to increase efficiency? Let’s share and make this a useful resource in itself

Guide to Setting Up a Meeting & The Upfront Contract

Guide to Setting Up a Meeting & The Upfront Contract

Do you find yourself spending too much time in meetings? Do they often over-run? Do you leave them feeling like you don’t really know what the outcome was or what you actually achieved? I did…for years I had meeting after meeting without clearly defining my outcomes and objectives and I dread to think how much time I wasted. As time is such a valuable resource I recognised I needed to do something about it and have recently enlisted on the Sandler Sales Management Training in my area (which I can recommend highly). One of the first things I learnt was a process they teach called the ‘Up Front Contract’ It’s taught for sales meetings really but I’m adapting it and using elements now for all my meetings. I’ll expand.

Here are the stages (and quite often this will be done on the phone pre-meeting)

Step 1 – Define the point of the meeting – a clear statement (what’s this meeting for)

Step 2 – Define the length of time required for the meeting and check that is ok with the person you’re going to see – do both parties feel it’s adequate.

Step 3 – Define the other parties objectives and expectations – what do they want to get from the meeting?

Step 4 – Define your objectives & expectations for the meeting – what sort of things are you going to cover, what type of meeting is it likely to be? Is it an informal chat or a presentation for example.

Step 5 – Outcomes – What will the outcome be? In a sales situation you either want a yes or a no ideally but if it’s not a sales meeting I’m adapting that to actionable items on both sides and if another meeting is required, getting that in the diary there and then. You shouldn’t end the meeting without this clear cut off point.

No one will hate you for having a structure and it will save you hours and hours of wasted time. If you’re interested, by the way, in Sandler training, drop me a mail and I’ll personally introduce you to their team.

Now Your Thoughts

Do you have any systems like this? Are there spins on the above that work for your business?

8 things that changed my life this year

With the end of the year in touching distance, I thought I’d give you a run down of 8 things that happened to me in 2009 that have changed my life positively. The reason for writing this list is that almost all of it is open to you to get involved with too. If I’ve benefited so much from these things, I hope that at least one person reading this takes action to investigate one or two items on the list and see’s their own life positively impacted. (Admittedly a few are a little jokey but that’s just the way I roll) :)

So lets get on – here are 8 things that have positively changed my life in 2009 (in no particular order :)):

1) iPhone – So I’ve gone on quite a bit about this recently and I do understand it splits opinion with Android lovers so I’m just going to tell you a few quick reasons why this has had such a profound affect on my life/business. First of all, it’s not possible to deny this is a sexy piece of kit and pretty much everything on it has been well thought out from a usability point of view. The phone has made a huge difference to the way I interact with email outside the office as well as social media. A huge amount of the buzz surrounding iPhones is the gimmicky apps that you download and hardly ever use, but if you look carefully you can find ones that really do make your life easier and more efficient. I now do at least 75% of my social media work from my phone, on the move, using dead time that I wouldn’t have used before. Here are a couple of examples of apps that have made a differences to me – Tube Deluxe helped me around London recently giving me more time to catch up on other bits of work. The National Rail app tracks GPS on the trains themselves meaning you can see where the train is at any time on the line – genius. TV Guide gets rid of the need for paper based guides. Natwest now have an app that lets me track my money on the move at anytime. Skype lets me phone other Skype users for free and AroundMe has helped me find cabs/hotels and garages a number of times on the move. CoPilot is better than the inbuilt Sat Nav I have in my own car and Google Maps has walked me to a few places I would have got lost trying to find ‘pre-iPhone’. Remember the Milk helps me with GTD (see later)….I could go on and I know I’ve only touched the surface! If you’re in the market for a new phone and think the iPhone is expensive then (compared to other phones) I would agree, but its so much more than a phone and I know its been worth every penny and much much more. This, for me, is an absolute must have gadget.

2) Jeffrey Gitomer – Sales/Positivity Guru. I was lucky enough to be invited to see Jeffrey earlier this year by owner of TheBestOf – Nigel Botterill. I didn’t know who Jeffrey was at the time but trusted Nigel’s opinion and boy am I glad I did. ANYONE in sales or marketing (yes that means you business owners) MUST go and see Jeffrey if possible. He really is a sales legend. I wrote more about him in this post I wrote earlier in the year. I can honestly say that Jeffrey’s one seminar has made a profound difference to the way I treat the sales process now and the way I teach my sales team to treat it too. His Little Gold Book of Yes! Attitude book is also a kick up the backside in the way we view our lives and other people. New staff members in my team will now be given one of these books and asked to read it during their first few months with us. I’ve bought every single one of his books now and strongly suggest you consider doing so too. A complete list of Gitomer books can be found on Amazon by clicking the link in this sentence.

3) Social Media – I don’t really know where to start with this. I was dabbling without knowing it for the last couple of years with sites like Facebook/YouTube and LinkedIn but then in Jan of 09 I found Twitter and my life changed (as well as that of our businesses). The clever integration of Social Media has lead to many new services from Optix Solutions, ending up in new work, new joint ventures and alliances, new friends and a very good ROI (yes we’ve been monitoring it). As anyone who knows me personally knows, I love Social Media – I love the connections I’ve made with people all over the world and the new exciting possibilities it brings to businesses willing to get started with it. Much like the buzz of ecommerce when I started out with my web business back in 1999, Social Media has given me a new lust for the Internet and what’s possible for clever, forward thinking businesses. If you’d like further information of Social Media or would like to contract my services in this area, please drop me an email or connect with me on Twitter (@banksy6)

4) White Tea – Alright so maybe this is a bit of a jokey one but I was getting really hacked off with other teas and my friend David Thomas suggested I got involved with White Tea! I didn’t even know this existed! Now a morning doesn’t start properly without a refreshing cup of this amazing drink! (p.s. don’t boil it for more than 1 minute – it ruins it :))

5) GTD – Getting Things Done is a global phenomenon and I never knew about it – until this year. I hold my hands up to the fact that in the past I have struggled hugely to keep all the balls in the air. As a multi-business owner, at any one point I have literally hundreds of things on my to-do list and I’d tried just about every time scheduling/work practice known to man – all to no avail. I had the messiest desk in the office (a source of constant banter for my employees). I never understood how anyone could have a clean desk if they were busy – it escaped me. Then in early 2009 two people I have a lot of respect for in Exeter – Scott Gould and Adam Stone recommended I read Getting Things Done by David Allen. Wow – what a fantastic book/system. It’s given me the tools to operate (most of the time at max efficiency and with a ‘mind like water’ – so I’m at my most creative) This is a very important thing to master as a business owner or you get dragged down in the minutiae of everyday life. I now have a clean (ish) desk and a system that allows me to keep on top of the hundreds of things I have on my plate at any one time. Every business owner should buy this book now.

6) Lizz – Lizz is my girlfriend and one of the points in this list which I hope you won’t be able to take advantage of :) I was a proper bachelor, living the high life for the last 10 years, since leaving university. While busy building a business, I had a lot of fun outside work with friends and family. A couple of years ago my present girlfriend Lizz came along and this year we moved into our first house together. I’ll admit, I was quite apprehensive about losing my independence but moving in with the love of my life (get your puke buckets ready) was the single best thing I did this year. Having a strong support network around you in life when you run a business is one of the most important things you can build. Someone you can share the hard and good times with…find yourself a Lizz if you haven’t already.

7) Apple Mac Shop – This year I got involved in the Apple brand for the first time. I bought an iPhone, we got a Mac Book Pro at work and through this I started to spend some time in the Apple shop in Exeter. I love the place so much so I wrote an article about the experience I had in another blog post.

8 ) Beacon Breakthrough – This one applies to those of you starting up/setup in the South West in the UK. This year, James my business partner and I found out about a new scheme for businesses aiming at becoming Beacon companies for the SW, the turnover threshold of which is £1.5million. For more information on the Beacon scheme check out their website. The Beacon breakthrough forums are aimed at companies that wish to take that next step and learn how already successful companies operate in every area from board setup to marketing to goal setting and planning. It’s a fantastic course and offers amazing value to participant companies. If you’re based in the SW, I would strongly suggest that you put yourself on this course next year as the differences it’s made to my web business are nothing short of phenomenal.

That concludes my line up for 2009. If there is one thing I’m going to be concentrating on next year it’s acting on things (minimising procrastination). I’ve learnt a huge amount this last year and changed my business in many ways because of the things I’ve learnt, books I’ve read and courses I’ve been on – I’d urge you to look down the list again and see if there is anything you can get involved in yourself and please let me know if you do and of course, how it worked for you :)

See you in 2010