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Archive for Work strategies – Page 2

Its about the fix

When you are in business, you will make mistakes. You will mess things up. You will do things so boneheaded that you want to hide under a rock for a week (or maybe that’s just me). The point is, mistakes happen.

What’s critical to your business is how you fix the problem.

Today I got my order from my food delivery service. It was not at all what I was expecting. A number of critical items were reduced or missing. Apparently when I was placing my order I went well over the ‘points’ I’m allotted by the system. While I was on hold to fix the problem I reviewed the order placed and can see that there was definitely too much stuff.

What went wrong:

So the first problem was the original order. I suppose I should have paid more attention, but really, I don’t have the point system in front of me. I assumed that it was the job of the guy on the phone to pay attention to that and they’ve always done an excellent job in the past. So that’s their first mistake.

The real big mistake was, when the error was discovered, they did not contact me to ask me how I’d like my order adjusted to fix the differences, and by the way apologize for not paying attention. They just made some assumptions, all of which were completely wrong. This just sets up their customer service department for dealing with irate customers. Not a nice thing to do to your coworkers. This is the mistake that lingers and could encourage me to talk badly about their company for months.

What went right:

The delivery driver (who is a great guy by the way, always pleasant. Always someone I’m perfectly willing to have in my home) knew what I needed to do. Call the guy I placed the order with and find out what happened. He’d arrived early for my delivery and since he had the time, he didn’t give me any trouble when I insisted he wait until I got a resolution. He played with my cats while I was on hold. Teach your people who is responsible for handling problems.

I asked to be directed to ‘the guy’. When I got his voice mail I went back to the switchboard and said “I have a problem with my order, I need to talk to ‘the guy’ right away before the driver can go.” He was on another call, so Switchboard made the intelligent decision to find someone in customer service who could help me right away. Timely response cuts down on the time your customer has to think about exactly how upset they are.

Right away turned out to be Hannah, who was pleasant, cheerful, apologetic, and apparently shocked that I wasn’t screaming at her. (hmm. I see another post in my future.)Be pleasant and apologetic.

She had all the answers from “send the driver on and you and I’ll will work this out” to “lets look at your account” and “wow, we really messed this up”. So we worked out a fair exchange, and then she threw in some extra stuff as an apology. Know what you can and can’t do to resolve problems. Be proactive with ‘can’.

And then she didn’t rush off but asked me about quality and service and took the time to discuss things with me as long as I wanted. Take the time to add a positive human component to the experience.

Thank you very much Hannah at Town and Country customer service. You did your job excellently today.

Break it down

Last week we watched The Next Master Chef on Food Network. It’s yet another reality show, if you don’t watch it. Their task was to cook for 400 hungry Marines. (I need to make the Marine solidarity noise now that I’m related to one. My baby sister just got married.)

The cameras caught just about everyone participating on that show talking some variation of “400 people!!! I’ve never cooked for 400 people!!!” And they proceeded to run around like headless chickens and ignore that critical part that they didn’t feel they knew how to tackle. Not a single one stopped and thought it through.

The team who made the best food? They lost, because they ran out. You can’t be feeding soldiers and run out of food. seriously.

I’ve never cooked for 400 people either. But I know how to break it down.

I’ve never cooked for 400 people. But I’ve cooked for 10. So I look at those giant pans they use for military cooking and I say ‘If I’m cooking au gratin potatos for 10 people, my pan is so big. How many of those pans fit into this one.” And then its a just matter of math.

That’s really how you have to handle any big scary project. Figure out what you do know, and use those pieces to help you figure out what you don’t know. The more complicated (or the more scary) something is, the smaller you may need to break down the pieces. Often you can figure out the parts that you don’t know either by handling the parts around it, or by breaking it down small enough to figure out who to ask for advice.

Ignoring the parts you don’t understand isn’t a sound strategy.

The right tools for the job.

Having the right tools for the job can make all the difference between success and failure in a new venture.

A month ago I had the opportunity to get a new tabletop projector for my classes. Now I already owned an old InFocus projector that works…fine. Not great, poor resolution, weighs a ton, but workable. The new nifty projectors aren’t cheap, and even at half price for slightly used (one time going out of business thing, so no use asking for my source) it was still a price tag needing serious consideration.

But then I got to thinking, what was there to think about? Was I worried the new venture wouldn’t pan out? Nope. That’s defeatist thinking. I’m passionate, I’m prepared, I’m ready. This is going to work. So really, having the best tools for the job, a good laptop, a spiffy little projector I can actually carry and set up myself, a good relationship with my sites, those things are actually really going to contribute to my success rather than be a burden. They’ll make it that much easier to succeed.

So I bought a portable screen.

Don’t procrastinate. Outsource!

Outsourcing isn’t just bad tech support in India.

Computers and other technology have enabled people who are very good at one certain thing to go into business to handle that one thing for others. Outsourcing to overseas has become popular and was really publicized by Tim Feriss in 4-Hour Workweek, but there are a lot of reasons that might not be the right fit for you. Fortunately, a lot of outsourcing is available right in your own business community.

Bookkeeping:

This service is one of the most popular for outsourcing. Taxes, payroll, those are mysteries that most of us would be happier never delving into. Fortunately there are many, many options for this that can be more affordable than the traditional hiring of a full time accountant. There are specialist book keepers who will keep your Quickbook files up to date and pay your bills. There are tax accountants who will handle only your taxes once a year. There are payroll specialists who will take your timesheets and produce everything from the paychecks for your contractors to your monthly or quarterly IRS documentation. Figure out what your needs are and take a look around.

IT support:

This is another one that too many people try to do themselves thinking its cheaper. How cheap is it when its costing you the time you could be generating billable hours for a client? How cheap is it when you spend hours on it and it still doesn’t work properly? What good is a network or computer that’s always down? If you live in a metro area check with your local Chamber of Commerce, I bet there are several businesses who handle anything from setting up your entire office IT pathways to cleaning viruses off your kid’s computers. A lot faster than most of us, and without the frustration.

Phones:

As business picks up, are you still trying to handle all your calls yourself? This one really depends on how big your business is and what kind of service you offer, but there are really excellent answering services out there. Some of them will answer as if it were your own office and can handle simple things like calling up a quote or setting up an appointment. Some can handle very detailed customer support. Some just take the traditional message and text your phone with it. How much would your productivity increase if you weren’t being constantly interrupted, even if those interruptions are really important? Could they wait 50 minutes if you check your messages once an hour? Could they wait until noon? Only you can judge the needs of your business, but give it some thought.

Web Development:

Having a spiffy professional website is as much about having the right tools and knowledge as it is having fresh interesting content. Unless you have training in coding, and graphics, and copywriting, you could probably use professional help with some of the pieces. Systems like Joomla are designed to make it easier to handle some parts, but easier is relative. How much knowledge do you have to start with, and what is the time it will take you to really figure it out worth when balanced with time you could be doing things you’re really good at. Ones that generate revenue? Web developers are a dime a dozen out there. Look at their websites, but don’t just look at the graphics or colors. Do you like what they have to say? Do they have actual content on their site? How do they feel about designing a website with a CMS system so you can adjust the content to suit yourself without having to wait on the developer and pay web developer fees to change simple text? Ask a lot of questions. How long have they been programming? Can they write a store system from scratch? Can they set up your web forum? Do they have customer testimonials or references to offer? Websites are an integral part of business now. Take the time and spend the money to have it done right, once.

Copywriting and editing:

The first rule of writing and editing is to always have someone else read it before it goes out. Even the best editors can and do make simple mistakes in their own work. Do you write well? Is your grammar correct? Does your style enhance your business? A good copywriter will take your ideas and set them out clearly and concisely. One document can be revised into several kinds of content. Often your written presentation is your first impression, either your website or your brochure. Are you making the right kind of impression?

This is just the beginning. Almost every possible task has someone that is devoted to doing it well as an independent professional. Think about what parts of your business you don’t enjoy or that don’t have a high enough return on the time investment and see about outsourcing it.

A growing outsourcing profession is the Virtual Assistant. A profession near and dear to my heart. So they’ll get their very own entry.

Filing is boring

There’s just no getting around it. Filing is boring. Which is why it piles up into mammoth unmanageable heaps and unsteady piles and threatens to take over your office.

Paperless is best where you can, but somethings you just can’t. Phone bills, utility bills, in some places those can be delivered electronically, but mostly they still come by mail.

When you must, you need a system. A nice low key system that doesn’t make you crazy.

Today I did nuisance filing dating back to October. A little embarrassing for someone who’s life work is helping people get organized, but I’m as human as the next non-filer. But I did it this morning in 45 minutes.

I have a file folder that sits on top of the filing cabinet. It gets all the bills as they’re paid, and other things like insurance statements and (rapidly dwindling) investment statements, none of which need to have anything done to them, but I do want to have them available if I need them.

When the folder inevitably gets full, I put ‘filing’ on the schedule, pick a time when I have the office to myself, crank up the music. Then I sort everything in to piles all over every flat surface. A very few things get put into chronological order. Everything else I assume I can sort them on the very off chance that I actually need one.

There’s always a few things that don’t yet have a home. I save those for last. I either decide they should go somewhere loosely related related or I pull out a nice new colored folder and make a brand new one. I try very hard to never let myself put anything back into that folder once I’m sorting. Really I do.

Poof. Six months worth of annoying paperwork done in 45 minutes.

How low can you go?

How close to completely paperless can you get?

I know that certain professions, realtors come immediately to mind, have huge stacks of government mandated paperwork they can’t escape.

For the rest of us, an easy way to stay organized is through keeping as much as possible on the computer. Folders, and sub folders and sub-sub folders, and as many as you need as often as you need. No running out of folders, no stacks of paper, no papercuts. If your electronic files aren’t organized, just put on your favorite music in the background and create folders and drag files around until you’re pretty sure you’ll be able to find things. If you realize the system you’re using doesn’t work quite as well as you’d like, you can try a different one in a matter of minutes.

My professional paper files consist of one drawer of government mandated tax paperwork of various kinds, and one drawer of customer files that contain a hard copy of the signed contract and any notes I took in a notebook. (I think better with a pen in hand than typing. I think it goes back to being in college pre-laptop.) I invoice by email.

Of course, if you’re going to have a paperless office, you need to have an excellent back up strategy with both on and off site copies. I’m hoping to get a guest poster in to write about that. Just remember it isn’t optional and absolutely not worth the risk. Back up early, back up often.

Do you know who you are?

The very first step to getting truly organized is knowing how you think and how you work.

Are you a morning person? Night? Doesn’t matter?

Think carefully. When are you the smartest? When are you the most social? Diagram your day to take advantage of your best times and your down times so you can maximize your productivity.

I’m a morning person, so I do things that are hard for me like quarterly tax paperwork or learning a new skill first thing in the morning. 1-3 are slow points in my personal day, so I get up from my desk and take care of other things like laundry or filing during those hours. My husband is definitely not a morning person, so he starts his day with email and customer support before he gets into code crunching after lunch.

Do you need a perfectly clear space? Or do you work better with everything to hand?

Ever seen a picture of Einstein’s desk? It was piled high and looks like he’d never find anything. My desk often looks like that, but I know that I can find everything I need in an instant. For me, getting up to get something in the middle of a project is a distraction. For others, having a messy desk is a distraction and an irritation. It isn’t about what work theory is currently popular, its about what actually works for you. But don’t kid yourself. Saying you like everything to hand doesn’t work when you can’t actually find things.

Do you need a lot of variety, or do you prefer to get into a certain mindset?
Its important to schedule your day and your week based on how you work best.
If I have a big project, I like to dive in and mostly stay there until its done. A few hours here and there isn’t best for me. I schedule meetings on certain days and know I won’t get much else done that day. But that’s me. Some of my clients work best by doing office work in the mornings, switching to client meetings in the afternoon, and use evenings for brainstorming and making plans. Fighting with your natural inclinations just wastes energy.

How does your week look?
Personally, I hit the ground running first thing Monday. I do hard things, set up projects, make lists and plans. By Friday I’m answering emails, tidying my desk and ready to quit early. Many others like a slower start. Monday is for filing, answering mail, and outlining the week. Tuesday is a much more productive day. Think about how your week flows, and work with it, not against it.

Once you know what your work habits really are, instead of what you’d like them to be, you’ll be able to work with them to make the most of your strengths and take the next steps to organizing.