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Take five minutes: prioritise your commitments with the “Important and Urgent” matrix

 

Take five minutes

In this series I want to encourage you to take just five minutes out of your busy day to set yourself up for bigger, better success.

People wonder how they can make their dreams come true: very often, it’s a matter of working out a way of making a small dent in a big ambition, putting the right systems in place, and making sure that it’s easy for these systems to work.

I will share my own systems, so that you can test them and see whether they work for you.

If you want to share a five-minute system with my readers or give me feedback on how this is working for you, tweet me @SusanHayes_

Remember, it only takes five minutes, right now, to change the course of history – your history at least!

 

Decide what is important and what is urgent

 

The following 5-minute strategy gives you a 10,000 foot view of your day-to-day. This tool, also known as “the Eisenhower matrix”, is simply a quadrant that gives you clarity and helps you prioritise what you should be working on right now.

Urgent_and_Important_Matrix

To fill in the “Important and Urgent” matrix:

1. Take a blank sheet of paper

and trace a vertical line across the middle of the width, then trace a horizontal line across the middle of the length. You end up with a “cross” in the middle of your sheet and four quadrants.

 

2. The vertical line is the axis for “Urgent”,

from “not very urgent” (bottom half), to “very urgent” (upper half). The horizontal line is the axis for “Important”, from “not very important” (left side half) to “very important” (right side half). This gives you the following quadrants: “not important, not urgent”; “urgent but not important”; “urgent and important”; “important but not urgent”.

 

3. List all your current projects and commitments,

especially those with deadlines attached. Distribute them into the different quadrants, according to how important and urgent they are. “Urgent” is defined simply as “how far away into the future is the deadline”. “Important” is defined as “how big would the impact be if I completed this task or achieved this ambition?”

Things like answering email are urgent but not so important (depending on the reason for the communication), things like spending time with your family, health and fitness, or working on a big project that might bring you a promotion are very often very important but not so urgent, as they don’t have a specific deadline.

 

4. You can do this exercise as a quick organising “fix”

to gain clarity on a very busy day. Then you can list only the most pressing projects and use the matrix to prioritise and get back a sense of control.

 

5. But you can also spend more time on the matrix

and use it as a kind of “life compass”. Brainstorm all the projects and commitments you can think of, and add them to your matrix. Don’t forget “someday” projects that keep being pushed back further and further away as you never seem to have time for them. Find a place in the matrix for each of these items, depending on how urgent and important they are.

 

6. You are now able to see what

in your life, right now, is “urgent and important”, “urgent but not important”, “important but not urgent”, “neither important nor urgent”. “Urgent and important” gets priority. “Urgent but not important” can hopefully be delegated, or perhaps you can tackle those items in a short “productivity blitz” using a timer for example. “Neither urgent nor important” should be dropped as they really don’t seem to make a difference.

 

7. If you are using the matrix to organise a busy day,

focus on the items in the “urgent and important” quadrant first and, as much as you can, tackle them one after the other.

 

8. If you are using the matrix to organise your life,

think in terms of systems: how can you get rid of the “neither important nor urgent” commitments? Can you put a system in place to delegate the “urgent but not important”? And more importantly, how can you put a deadline on the “important but not urgent” so that it becomes both important and urgent?

That’s it!

 

“Mmhh… But everything is important and urgent! Everything needs to get done yesterday!”

 

That’s exactly why you need the “Important and urgent” matrix! If you suffer from a feeling of overwhelm, if you’re constantly stressed out that everything is slipping through your fingers, the matrix helps, because it gives you a framework to weigh the relative importance and urgency of everything.

It’s quite likely that there are things on your to-do list that are not, or less, important and can be downgraded in the matrix. Just because something is urgent, doesn’t mean it’s important: it’s because you find it difficult to get perspective when you feel overwhelmed and stressed out.

At first you might feel very uncomfortable when you have to decide between two action items and downgrade one of them. The less productive alternative is flitting between the two of them without making a meaningful impact on either of them.

But that’s what it means to prioritise. You might find it difficult in the beginning, but when you realise how much lighter you feel, how much quicker things get done when you’re not overheating and constantly putting out fires, how much more productive you are, you will see immense benefit, both psychologically and as you course through your list of things to do.

For now you’re choosing which action item to tackle first: the second one will still be there waiting for you when you’re done with the first.

 

Why should you do this exercise?

 

1. To gain perspective and clarity when you feel overwhelmed, and regain a sense of control by establishing priorities.

2. To keep an eye on “important but not urgent” items: things like spending time with your family, health and fitness, and working to reach the next level in your career can’t be postponed indefinitely.
If you do postpone them, life will pass you by, and this is tragic. When I was an employee, I could have said “Creating a business? I’ll think about it later”. I can’t help but be sad when I think The Positive Economist might never have been, the Savvy Guides might never have got written, and the #SavvyTeenAcademy might never have been launched.

This is why the matrix is such a great tool: it helps you see when something “important but not urgent” needs a little bit of attention to become “important and urgent”. To effect this change, think of the “T” element of SMART goals: can you give this important item a date in your diary? When you write down “Monday 6pm to 7pm: brainstorm ideas to get promotion or create business” or “Friday 7pm to 10pm: date night with spouse – DO NOT DISTURB”, you make the time in your life for the truly important things.

In essence, every time you make space in your diary for something that is truly important for you, you’re making an appointment with your future. Keep those appointments – meet your future right here, right now and watch it become reality!

 

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How I stopped making this huge business blunder and immediately increased my profit

 

Revenue is money coming into your business. But if you only ever try to grow revenue, your business is headed for disaster. How can that be? Because revenue is vanity, and profit is sanity.

You wouldn’t believe the number of business people I talk to, who have no idea what their breakeven point is: how much money does it cost them to run their business for a month?

Once you know the answer to this crucial question, you can leave anxiety behind: now it’s only a matter of focusing on more profitable sales and servicing those already contracted.

It sounds obvious, and still, at the very beginning of my business career, I made the same mistake as thousands of other people

This is an excerpt from my book The Savvy Woman’s Guide to Financial Freedom

“I have learned the high price of bad or no planning the hard way. A few years ago, my business was going very well, or so I thought. My diary was spilling over with mentoring appointments all over the country. They were all happy to pay, and when I sat down to calculate the revenue I would take in the next week, sometimes it equated to a month’s wages from my previous job.

It would have been perfect, had it not been the case that by the end of the week I was exhausted, running behind on my administration and with little, if any, profit at all. In fact, when I looked back on it, even though I took in a month’s salary in a week, I ended up with a month’s salary at the end of the month – but after having put in significantly more hours. What was going on?

There were two problems. First, I was so busy that I was getting taxis if I was mentoring people in Dublin. If it was beyond the Pale, I would either drive or get a train and then another taxi the other side of my destination. On top of that, I didn’t have the time to cook for myself either, so I was always eating out.

I can imagine you reading this and saying to yourself, surely she copped on to herself, saw what was going on and stopped it straight away. I’m afraid it took a while for me to see what was happening. I saw lots of money coming in and I had an attitude to costs that went something like this: ‘I have lots of money, a €10 taxi here and a €20 train ticket there is well worth it because I can honour all of my commitments and work on the move at the same time.’

I got a serious reality check one rainy afternoon, in Ballyliffin, Co. Donegal, when I was stuck in a hotel room with hours to kill before a party that night. I happened to be in an organizing kind of mood so I turned on the laptop, filled in an Excel spreadsheet and started to peel back the layers of my revenue. I went through all my sources of revenue and did a short profit-and-loss exercise with them.

For example, if I earned €150 from a meeting, I would then take away the cost of transport, food, printing, phone calls, etc., to get the actual profit of the meeting. I also applied a key litmus test: if my own company were to hire me as a consultant at this high a rate, could my company afford me?

Effectively, this was a totally non-sugar-coated way of looking at the numbers in my business and identifying whether it was sustainable and – and this is a hard thing to admit – whether I was actually running it the best way for me, those around me and the health of the company in general.

Up until then, I had customers ranked on my spreadsheet in terms of revenue: depending on the turnover, I would call them ‘my best client’, ‘my second best’, etc. I rearranged my customers by profit.

As the rain pounded against the window, my jaw dropped as I saw the result.

First, my view of my best customers changed utterly; and second, I couldn’t believe that I was actually making a loss with my second-best revenue stream. A loss! I hadn’t been trying to change it either. After all, as far as I was concerned, up until that point the more money I was taking in, the better.

I was completely blind to the fact that I was actually losing money by undertaking the activity into which I was putting so much energy.

As the saying goes, “everything changes when you give a little attention to it”. That’s exactly what happened. With a change of attitude and a sharpened vision and exactly the same amount of effort as before, the spreadsheet changed out of all recognition, and in the right direction.”

 

 

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How to save yourself a lot of totally preventable, silly business trouble

 

Every time I say that I love accounts I get this gasp of disbelief from people in the audience. Even though it’s – mostly – silent, it’s as if I can hear the whole room erupt into one huge inward groan. “But accounts are so boring! Mind-numbing!”

But when you own a business, hating accounts is almost like coming across the Holy Grail and dismissing it as “just a boring drinking cup”.

So believe me when I tell you that accounts are not just fun, they’re a lifeline and an essential strategic planning tool in your business. If you like to daydream about the future of your business, you’ll love accounts. So here are three reasons (out of many!) to love financial management.

 

1. Your accounts spreadsheet is like a hotshot consultant that doesn’t require payment and never lies.

 

This is the most important: the data contained in your accounts are strategic insights waiting to be unpacked. Your accounts are like an X-Ray picture of your business.

Accounts are the best decision-making tool there is. Completely non emotional, completely honest as long as they’re accurate and up to date, they’re a very rich source of information and they’re essential when planning your strategy.

I have three different spreadsheets – that’s all! I don’t have reams and reams of information to wade through to identify issues or opportunities; that would totally defeat the purpose. When you pare down the information you need to keep track of, you can focus on the essentials. The more accessible the information is, the more useful it is to you.

The three documents I have are “Cashflow Analysis”, “Company KPIs” and “Current Opportunities”. I use Trello to make sure I’m both productive and timely when working on these documents.

What they call “running the numbers” means asking your spreadsheet questions like: What should I focus on? Grow new sales? Grow repeat sales? How much is this existing source of revenue worth to my business? Can I or should I drop it? Can I or should I keep it?

A source of revenue can be a dear project that unfortunately you’ll have to abandon because it’s simply not working – but you don’t want to consider that because “at least it’s money coming in”. But when you work out the profit in this revenue, the answer becomes clear: it will have to go, or you will need to make a drastic change in the way you service it.

A source of revenue can also be rife with annoyance and unpleasantness – until you realise, looking at your cashflow analysis, that your business doesn’t need it. How much is that insight worth to you?

I often talk to small business owners who are clouded in worry that they are not making enough money… and that there will never be enough. I ask them two questions: “How much does it cost to run this business for a month?” This is their breakeven point. The vast majority of them can’t tell me.

After they find the answer to this question, I ask them if they have brought in enough sales to cover this?

The answer to these two questions is often all that people need. Then they can stop worrying if they have cleared the breakeven and focus with enthusiasm on the next tranche of sales that brings growth and more profit.

If they haven’t cleared breakeven, they are making a loss: now they know by how much, and they can focus on erasing the deficit.

This allows them to make sure they are actually focusing on what’s really important. Once they have established priorities, it gives them clarity and they know what to do.

They can also identify what causes cashflow issues well in advance, and defer any non-time sensitive expenses to a better time.

 

2. Not keeping a close eye on accounts will expose you to totally preventable business tragedies

 

I shared the story in The Savvy Woman’s Guide to Financial Freedom of how crushed I felt one day – even though I was generating lots of sales. I decided to work out the profit I was really making, only to find that actually the harder I worked, the worse I was making the situation because I was actually making a loss.

At that time, I faced a crossroads – do something to change this fast or stop doing it completely. I chose the former, but what a waste of time and good energy that it took so long for the realisation to sink in!

I cannot count the number of times I’ve heard people tell me their accountant or somebody proficient in finance fiddled them out of money, or they made a big capital investment without running the numbers first.

I often hear people in business tell me how discouraging it is – they’re doing great, money is coming in, they’re finding clients, and suddenly BAM, they’ve got a P30 or a VAT return and a lot of their hard-earned money is taken away.

I know how that feels; as you put your head in your hands, you wonder “Will I ever get ahead? I thought I was doing great…” You then berate yourself. “These deadlines are the same every year – why do I let myself get caught out every single time?”

Let me assure you that you’re not alone at all in this. Many, many people find themselves in your situation. You can totally turn this around and remove the anxiety around these deadlines. I would encourage you to think differently: this is totally predictable and hence, totally doable. What steps can you take to plan proactively for this? Take some time to examine your cashflow and build a strategy around that.

You may also find yourself in an unplanned conversation with a potential investor or client, and they ask for a “ballpark figure”. The problem is, psychologically a “ballpark figure” tends to be used as a benchmark. If you quote them $5,000 and you later realise, after having run the numbers, that you actually meant $8,000… you’re actually going over their expectation by 60% – and that’s the expectation that you set for them. Keeping an eye on your accounts directly benefits your business because it prevents these awkward conversations and allows you to give an “accurate approximate” quote quickly.

It’s the same for business investments: can you afford them? Can you afford not to? If you know how much work and/or money an investment can save you, or give you, how does that compare with its price? “Rubbing shoulders” with your accounts is really important in that case. You will know much better, and realise much earlier, if the investment you’re considering is only a “nice to have”, or if it will allow you to turbocharge your company.

This means you can spend on the right things, as early as you can: splurging on a piece of software that you don’t really need can throw off your cashflow and eat into your profit, whereas waiting too long for an essential investment can seriously hamper your business efforts.

Taking a serious interest in your accounts means you won’t be trying to drive with the handbrake on.

 

3. Hating it will only make things more difficult for yourself

 

Let me be very straight about one business fact. If you intend to stay in business and to make your company prosper, there will never come a day when you won’t have to deal with accounts in one form or other. You might outsource some or most of it to suppliers, colleagues, partners, employees and technology, but unless you sell your business, you will have to keep an eye on them in some capacity.

If you continuously tell yourself that you don’t want to do them, it’s going to make life very difficult. The earlier you embrace accounts, the less you’ll suffer.

This is how I do it: I enjoy doing the accounts because I have lots of nice associations with them.

I love the fact that I can go to my home office, have the radio on, bring in a coffee, make the room all nice and settle in. I don’t have to fight any battles, I don’t have to go out and try to convince people to buy from me, but just to embark on a financial treasure hunt of putting all of the bits’n’pieces together!

 

So what now?

 

I hope you see how exciting accounts can be: that’s where the prosperous future of your business is hiding.

Here are a few action steps to get you started right away.

You might…

  • Think of what obstacles have held you back so far: receipts all over the place? Keeping track of invoices outstanding too much of a hassle? No system to organise and gather information? Let’s deal with this right now. How about scheduling a morning every week for a month to take care of them: remember, make goals timely, plan time in your calendar for what you want to achieve.
  • Ask around you: what systems do people use that have made their life easier when it comes to accounts? Do they use specific software? Do they have tips to share?
  • Make a list of specific action steps to tackle during that block of time: “Retrieve receipts for October”, “Design a folder system that would be enjoyable and easy to use”, “Think of workflow for doing accounts and establish a checklist”, “Write down three questions to ask my accountant”.
  • Hire somebody to do the work that doesn’t require you.
  • Educate yourself by calling Revenue, or browsing videos on Youtube to create an automated spreadsheet.
  • Schedule a meeting or at least a call with your accountant. Remember, it’s absolutely essential to keep communication channels open with your accountant and bank manager: they’re the stakeholders of your finances (more on this in my book)

It breaks my heart when business owners tell me that “they felt so silly” when this or that happened because they didn’t take a look at their accounts. Starting right now, do something about it, draw the lessons from past mistakes, and reap their benefits.

 

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You would love to do this… If only you had the time

 

You’ve always wanted to study a specific topic, or write a book, or start your business: there’s this dream you have, but you might have resigned yourself to the thought that you will never have the time, you’re too old, it’s too late, you’re too busy, you need to take care of the children, etc.

But there are several excellent reasons why you should definitely embrace that big scary project on top of all your other commitments. There will never be a ‘right time’, a perfect moment when all the stars align and you have several months of free uninterrupted time to go after your dreams.

Make It Happen - Live Your Dreams Susan HayesCulleton

Make It Happen – Live Your Dreams Susan HayesCulleton

The best time to do this thing you’ve always wanted to do is right now.

When I tell people I’ve written three books, many of them ask how I was able to find the time. But when I attended the Penguin Christmas party, I met writers who publish a book every single year as if it was simply a matter of course (and not all of them write full-time).

It was the same when I started studying for the CFA level 3 exam (I am now officially a CFA Charterholder), on top of running my business and being out of the country sometimes as much as three weeks in a month.

Famous people we admire have the same 24-hour days that we do. So what is keeping us from tackling a big project, one that would take us closer to our dreams, is not the lack of some supernatural ability or some unfair advantage.

I’d like to share my experience and I hope this will give you ideas to tackle your own big project.

 

A change is as good as a rest

 

Adding one more commitment to your already busy schedule can actually give you more energy: it can make your mind work in very different ways that complement one another. As a result you end up feeling recharged, instead of exhausted.

When I studied for CFA level 3 and when I wrote The Savvy Woman’s Guide to Financial Freedom and The Savvy Guide to Making More Money, I had to juggle these considerable projects with a full schedule as business owner, trainer, stock market investing coach and keynote speaker.

But I thoroughly enjoyed each of these projects, because they meant I got to practice other skills, or the same skills but in very different ways. Studying or writing was a welcome break from other forms of activities, and it made everything even more enjoyable.

 

Savour the moment

 

A different activity can also mean a change of scenery. Instead of focusing on all the ways that this new project is going to take from your energy, focus on all the ways you can welcome novelty in your life.

Thoroughly enjoying the process will sustain your motivation until you can celebrate the result, and enjoying the process also comes from the little things.

While writing my books, I must have sat in hundreds of cafés all over the world, where I love to people watch and daydream for inspiration. I also wrote at home over Christmas, surrounded by family, as well as on holiday in the Canaries: while enjoying walks around the island I would exclaim around ten times a day ‘Wouldn’t that be a lovely place now to sit down and write a couple chapters?’ Needless to say, I had more than a little fun poked at me every time I said that!

 

This finite project lends its colour to your life

 

Right now you might be worried about how you’re going to fit it all into your schedule, but in a few months’ time, or even in a few years’ time, you will remember this ‘season’ of your life thanks to this finite project: you will hear yourself say things like ‘It was the time that I…’ while reminiscing fondly.

When the additional commitment is one you have chosen yourself and it has a clear endpoint like a deadline, being engaged in a period of intense work gives you a heightened sense of being alive. I can’t count the number of times I stopped to pinch myself and thought how lucky I was.

Just looking up from my laptop for a second to take in the environment, I would get this jolt of realisation: I am a business owner, I am soon going to be a published author and here I am, writing a book, pouring my expertise onto the blank page for the benefit of future readers.

This deep sense of gratitude is one of the most memorable constants of my book-writing period. I’ve often heard this echoed by busy people who are energized by the volume and variety of things going on in their lives.

Now, don’t think that there weren’t times when it felt like deadlines were cascading down on top of me or that I had to push through a wall of tiredness or that I thought I had bitten off FAR more than I could chew. However, the moments of appreciation were the very tools I used to fight my way through the difficulties.

 

Break it down

 

Whether it’s studying or writing a book or any other kind of big project, you will need to break it down into smaller and smaller parts.

Be conscious of all those little pockets of time throughout the day: waiting for children to finish football practice, waiting in line at the supermarket, waiting for an appointment, commuting… You can find specific activities that advance your project five minutes at a time and fit perfectly into these little nooks and crannies.

But you can only use pockets of time effectively if you know what you can achieve in ten minutes or thirty minutes or an hour. If you don’t have a process to break down a big project into its component parts, you will end up with ‘write book’ or ‘study for exam’ on your to-do list. Then you’ll wonder why that item always gets shunted to the next day (or the next year!).

Remember the M part of the SMART framework: M means measurable, so each step of the project should be ‘check-off-able’. You’ve heard the joke: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. That’s exactly how you tackle any big project.

For studying, it can mean: read ten pages from a chapter; do a ten-minute memory test to check what you memorised from the previous chapter; read the outline of three chapters to familiarise yourself with concepts, etc.

For setting up a business, it can mean: investigating if a similar idea is already in the market place, e-mailing state agencies for advice, calling a friend who set up their own business, putting together a plan of the product or service offering, checking out the price of the inputs, etc.

To write a (nonfiction) book, it might be: list ten ideas that you want to feature in Chapter 5; explain how what you talk about in chapter 4 naturally follows from what you talked about in chapter 3; write 500 words on a specific idea in chapter 7, etc.

When writing The Savvy Woman’s Guide to Financial Freedom, I sat down with a friend and we had a long chat about what I wanted each chapter to achieve. How would the reader be helped by chapter 2? By chapter 3? This gave me a very clear blueprint when I started the writing itself.

This will help you avoid the following issue: you have made the time to work on your project by scheduling a session, but when you sit down to it, you’re not sure where to start.

That’s why you need small enough steps: what can you achieve in five, ten, twenty minutes? These steps will give you mini-deadlines and also daily successes: both are very important to stay the course and keep up your motivation by showing you that you’re making progress.

So don’t delay your dream any longer and go for it!

 

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Take five minutes: choose and track a KPI

 

Take five minutes

 

In this series I want to encourage you to take just five minutes out of your busy day to set yourself up for bigger, better success.

People wonder how they can make their dreams come true: very often, it’s a matter of working out a way of making a small dent in a big

Performance Indicator's - Susan HayesCulleton

KPI’s Key Performance Indicator’s – Susan HayesCulleton

ambition, putting the right systems in place, and making sure that it’s easy for these systems to work.

I will share my own systems, so that you can test them and see whether they work for you.

If you want to share a five-minute system with my readers or give me feedback on how this is working for you, tweet me @SusanHayes_  and follow me

Remember, it only takes five minutes, right now, to change the course of history – your history at least!

 

Choose and track a KPI

 

A KPI is a Key Performance Indicator: it’s a metric that tells you how well you’re doing on your path to an objective. Every dieter know they have to use scales or a tape measure to check how they’re doing: their weight or measurements are the KPI they’ve chosen to measure progress.
To choose and track a KPI:

1. Decide on a project, either personal or professional, that you want to work on.

2. Break down this project and find out which metric is the best measure of success. For example, if you’re in business, it might a “sales projection for the year.” If you’re saving money for something specific, it might be “what money did I put towards my goal this week and how has this brought me closer?” If you’re studying for an exam or working on a project, then it might be “how many chapters did I cover this week and how does this make a difference in my overall preparation?”

3. Decide on a system that will make it easy for you to track that metric: it can be as simple as a wall calendar on which you mark a big “X” for every day that you do the thing you want to do. Alternatively, create a spreadsheet in which every day or every week you log the impact you’ve made on the KPI (for example, taking care of your accounts)

4. Decide when you will log the KPI and put a reminder on your phone or on your computer.

That’s it!

 

“Mmhh… How do I make sure it’s the right KPI? How do I remember to track it?”

 

That’s exactly why you need the KPI exercise! First of all, make sure you actually want the result that the KPI points to. Then, make sure it’s easier to stick with tracking the KPI, than to forget about it: for example if you’re tracking the number of sales calls made, find a way to incorporate the log into the existing workflow. A dieter might for example put the scales right in front of the bathroom sink, so that they have to step on the scales every time they brush their teeth.

 

Why should you do this exercise?

 

1. To start gathering important data: you may be taking the “scenic route” to your goals when in fact there is a much more direct way and your KPI can be a super signpost.

2. To give yourself a “daily success”: when you’re trying to achieve something big, you need intermediate deadlines to keep up motivation and make sure you’re on track. A daily or weekly log is that intermediate deadline and acts as a regular pat-on-the-back, showing you beyond a shadow of a doubt that you’re moving forward.

Give yourself a tangible, accurate record of your efforts: you don’t follow the path, you create the path.

 

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5 eLearning technologies to boost sales and productivity

 

When prospects call you with questions, do you find that you often tell them to have a look at your website? How many of them actually do it? What if you had a way of taking your prospect by the “virtual hand” right now, even while they are on the phone with you – without either of you having to leave their home or office?

Thanks to free software packages that you can download from the web, you can show prospects a lot more about your product or service and make much, much more effective sales conversations.

5 eLearning Technologies Susan HayesCulleton

5 eLearning Technologies
Susan HayesCulleton

 

As somebody who has brought eLearning right to the fore of our offering over the years, I do more and more meetings, presentations and training from the office, and my productivity has skyrocketed. Let me introduce you to a few of those time-saving tools and their applications.

 

Create a virtual tour

 

You might have photos of your product, or of yourself speaking at an event, etc. Pictures that represent your business can easily be transformed into a compelling video, complete with voiceover. Open a PowerPoint file and insert each one of your pictures on a blank slide. Make sure the image exactly covers the slide up to its edges.

Next, write a script highlighting how your product or service stands out from the competition. Next, click on either “Record Slide Show” or “Record Narration” and read out your script as you click the slides forward. The program records your voice with the transitions in the slides.

Save the file as both a PowerPoint file (for your own edits) and a PowerPoint Show. Upload the PowerPoint Show to your site for prospects to watch.

Alternatively, there are other tools that allow you to collate a series of images and sounds into a movie – check out Animoto or iMovie for example.

 

Take prospects on a live tour from the comfort of their home

 

Skype allows you to have a conversation over the web, using your computer like a phone. But the real advantage of Skype is that you can also share your screen: now you can essentially give a live, narrated tour of anything you can display on your screen.

Using Skype’s screenshare functionality, you could make sure that your prospect visits your website, simply by going to the website yourself on your own computer: your prospect will see your website through screenshare. You can now show them the video you prepared in the previous step, and sell them on benefits immediately, while they’re “on the phone” with you over Skype.

You can also use the webcam on your computer to activate Skype’s video call function, if what you want to show your prospect is in the same space as you.

 

Don’t repeat yourself

 

”FAQ”, or “Frequently Asked Questions”, are just that: questions that we have to answer over and over and over. It’s time-consuming and ultimately frustrating.

As new staff or suppliers join your organisation, you need to tell them about processes and procedures that are unfamiliar to them. Instead of going through a detailed explanation each time, consider recording a screencast. You are creating a video which records everything that you do on your screen.

Screenr is a free, instant, web-based screencast software. All you need to do is go to Screenr’s website, and start recording anything that can be done on your screen: how to look up the company database, how to log queries or how to fill out an expense claim.

If you want to explain how to do things off-screen, create a document on your computer with a list of steps to take when following a certain process. Start Screenr and record your voice over the document displayed on your screen. You have now created a video tutorial that people can refer to, instead of having to ask you.

 

Create a personalised profile

 

Moodle is a “Learning Management System” whose users include major universities around the world. Imagine: professional educators have endorsed it. It is a large online repository that can be accessed from anywhere in the world once you have created a username and password.

You can store your files and create a virtual shared filing cabinet with your staff, allowing you to keep all the documents relating to a specific project in one, easily accessible place.

You can also create a personal, password-protected space for each client, to store documents regarding what part of your offer they are currently interested in, their factfind, a brochure or any relevant marketing document, your contact details, your e-mail contact, etc. You can offer your clients a custom personal online profile. I’ve used this to great effect with mentoring clients.

 

Stop typing, start talking

 

Podcasts are simply audio recordings available on the web. Many radio shows now offer past episodes as podcasts.

If you have a long e-mail to write to a staff member outlining a specific task or briefing them on a product, client or development, consider podcasting yourself instead.

Audacity is a fantastic piece of software that allows you to record your voice as a file, which can then be sent as an email attachment. This is a much faster way to get things done than typing it out.

Alternately, most phones have a voice recorder feature. Record yourself, then transfer the file to your computer and send it as an attachment.

If the file is too big to fit into an email, you can use the free web-based service WeTransfer to get the file across, or Dropbox to store the audio in the cloud where the recipient can access it through a unique link.

 

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An exports strategy for SMEs

 

I realise that, for many SMEs, exporting is puzzling. Many SMEs don’t think of it, because they associate exporting with a lot of hassle (Won’t you have to translate everything into several different languages?) and with the idea that it’s only for bigger companies. ‘Exporting’ sounds like this big milestone that you can only reach once you’ve proved yourself on the home market.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. You don’t need to export to a whole bunch of different countries to start with: start with just one foreign English-speaking country (how about the UK for example?). It’s not compulsory to prioritise the home market over exporting: if people need and appreciate your product at home, it’s very likely that people in foreign lands will have similar needs. As human beings we have a lot more in common than we think.

When the media talk about the world being a village, and the world being flat again, in many respects they are right. It has never been easier to reach customers further away: many barriers have been removed. And if you’re an Irish SME, help is there for the asking.

 

Why export? Isn’t it a whole lot of hassle?

 

Is it not only for bigger businesses? When do you know your business is ready to export? As soon as it is ready to have more clients!

When I started thinking about exporting, I was a one-woman band and my business wasn’t even six months old. I first attended a Dublin Chamber event to meet a Maltese delegation on a visit to Dublin. Then I took a leap of faith and bought a low-cost plane ticket to Malta.

I had not the slightest idea whether this was going to work, but I thought I’d give it a try. And it worked.

You can export many things, not just the food products that have made Irish exports famous! Whether you sell a product or a service, you can export that – actually, it might even be easier to export a service, thanks to the Internet. You might even do it without leaving Ireland: tourism is part of exports, since it represents foreign money being spent on Irish goods and services.

The most important reason to export is that it allows you to diversify your client base. As a financial analyst and trainer, and stock market investor, I know for a fact that diversification is the ONLY winning strategy for the long term and in order to grow.

Take on additional clients and expand – the more countries you export to, the better protected you are if one of your markets contracts. This is exactly what has helped Irish construction businesses survive when the boom ended: they used their existing ties to the UK to expand there when the Irish market slumped.

 

How can you be in several places at the same time?

 

SMEs face specific challenges when considering exports. Somebody will have to go overseas and do business, after all. If you can manage your exports from Ireland once everything is running smoothly, in the first phase you will have to go meet foreign prospects.

Are you worried that, if one of the employees, or the founder of the SME, goes away on a business trip, the whole structure of your business will collapse? If that is any comfort, I’d say one week away from Ireland is very, very unlikely to spell disaster. Nothing catastrophic to fear with a little bit of organization and forward-planning.

Making the time to attend trade missions, international trade fairs and conferences, and other networking events are what your business needs to grow. And if you find it difficult, in the middle of all your other commitments, to find space for that, now would be a great time to think seriously about delegating some of your tasks. Can you hire somebody or outsource a task, even for a few hours a week, to help you with some aspect of your business? This development will be essential to your growth at some point anyway, why not do it now to allow you to look into exports?

And then, once the trade link is up and running, use conference calls on Skype or Webex to follow up and build the trading relationship. There are so many great, free resources (and software) on the Internet that will allow you to cut down on travel.

 

Ask for help

 

The success of my first foray into exports is also due in no small part to the help of government agencies, at an Irish, Maltese and European level.

Enterprise Ireland offers so many resources to help you export, from training, funding and mentoring. Their First Flight programme is specifically geared towards first-time exporters. They will coach you and help you up your game until you are ready.

Enterprise Europe Network is another great agency. Among other services, they can pair you up with another European business for partnerships and opportunities.

 

The Irish spreading their wings!

 

In times of economic hardship, Irish people have often resorted to emigration to try and improve their lot. In other cases, people look to other countries, which offered more specialised opportunities in their field. The Irish diaspora is a wonderful business network. Engaging in this community by giving to it and asking for help from it allows Irish businesses at home to thrive in markets abroad.

Networking with Irish-created businesses abroad will allow you to benefit from their wisdom and tips – and connections. I am a board member of the Dublin chapter of IIBN, the International Irish Business Network. They are all about helping Irish businesses succeed abroad. I spoke at their Annual Global Conference in London and it was an exhilarating, high-energy event. And it came just at the right time, since I am opening up trade links with the UK. IIBN has a Dublin chapter that you can contact to get you started, as well as a London, Belfast and a New York chapter.

It’s never too early to export, and the rewards are many!

 

 

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Take five minutes: the Red Pen exercise

 

Take five minutes

Making you dreams come true in Business Susan HayesCulleton

Making you dreams come true in business

 

In this series I want to encourage you to take just five minutes out of your busy day to set yourself up for bigger, better success.

People wonder how they can make their dreams come true: very often, it’s a matter of working out a way of making a small dent in a big ambition, putting the right systems in place, and making sure that it’s easy for these systems to work.

I will share my own systems, so that you can test them and see whether they work for you.

If you want to share a five-minute system with my readers or indeed give me feedback on how this is working for you, tweet me @SusanHayes_

Remember, it only takes five minutes, right now, to change the course of history – your history at least!

 

What’s the Red Pen exercise?

 

1. You will need a diary or notebook that you regularly refer to, and a red pen (or another colour that you like and that cheers you up). If you don’t use a paper diary, the note-taking app on your phone might work well for you. It’s best, though, if you can see your note in red pen in the middle of all the appointments for that day: it will jog your memory more effectively.

For this first time doing the exercise, you will go to yesterday’s date in your diary and write down one thing you are proud of achieving yesterday. If you’re doing this on your phone or computer, write the date, and one sentence about that day’s achievements.

You HAVE to write one thing you are PROUD of. This could be a new client, a great testimonial, a good networking event, a finished assignment, retention of a customer, a review meeting with your boss, overcoming a fear, getting around to something you were procrastinating about, etc.

 

“Mmhh… I didn’t do anything out of the ordinary yesterday…”

 

That’s exactly why you need the red pen exercise! Find something, find anything: you did the right thing, you helped somebody, you stayed going even though you were tired, you were ten minutes early for a meeting. As a result you were cool, calm and collected and the meeting went well. Write that down!

Or you worked up the nerve to make a phone call you dreaded, or to write to someone you admire. Write that down!

You HAVE to write something. You can use this prompt: “I’m pleased with myself that I did ____”

This is the first step.

 

2. The second step is to put a reminder in your phone or on your computer to do the same this evening, then tomorrow. And the day after, and the day after, etc.

3. The third step is to go back through your diary and look at these comments on a day that you’re feeling reflective, need a boost, are wondering if you’re really getting anywhere, finding it difficult to get started or are wondering “Where has the time gone?” You will be astonished at all the things you achieved in just a few weeks or months and you will begin to spot patterns.

The good patterns that lead to success are repeatable, but you can’t repeat them and fine-tune them if you’re not aware of them.

 

Why do it?

 

1. To boost morale and give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back.

2. Because it will help you uncover effective systems, in business and in your personal life.

3. Because you need to acknowledge the little successes. They always end up blooming into big victories.

 

Find the repeatable steps. Trust that your success didn’t just fall out of the sky: you worked at it, so make sure you don’t forget the tiny steps that took you there. Then repeat those steps to achieve more success!

 

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Take five minutes: Be of help – Make Your Business Dreams Come True

 

Take five minutes

 

In this series I want to encourage you to take just five minutes out of your busy day to set yourself up for bigger, better success.

People wonder how they can make their dreams come true: very often, it’s a matter of working out a way of making a small dent in a big

Making you dreams come through in Business Susan HayesCulleton

Making your Business dreams come through by Susan HayesCulleton

ambition, putting the right systems in place, and making sure that it’s easy for these systems to work.

I will share my own systems, so that you can test them and see whether they work for you.

If you want to share a five-minute system with my readers or indeed give me feedback on how this is working for you, tweet me @SusanHayes_

Remember, it only takes five minutes, right now, to change the course of history – your history at least!

 

What’s the five minute help blitz?

 

1. Think of… A customer. A supplier. Somebody you met recently at an event. Somebody you know and deeply respect in your industry. Somebody you haven’t spoken to in a while.

2. Take 5 minutes to think about how you can help them. Can you make an introduction? Send them a book or an article that you read recently, and outline why it would be of use to them? Did you come across somebody else whose offer is complementary to theirs? Have you seen a tender that would suit their business? Do you know of a networking event that might be good for them to attend? Do you know of a forum where they could participate with expertise and it would be good for their branding?

3. Do it, and put a reminder in your calendar to do it again very soon. Every day is great if that’s possible, but maybe aim for two or three times a week.

 

What or who can you send their way that would be of interest or value to them?

 

If it’s an introduction… Ask both persons separately whether they would be interested in being introduced. Explain why you think the connection would be valuable.

If it’s a piece of information, a book or an article or a video or a podcast… Explain what made you think of the content and what points in particular are relevant to the person you’re contacting?

If you receive an invitation or are going to a networking event… Who could you invite? Who would it be of interest to? Who would benefit from meeting the people likely to turn up?

And it can also just be to tell them that something they did touched you, helped you. Write to them to thank them, to compliment them, and be as specific as possible: how has their work helped you? (on this theme, listen to the third episode of my podcast)

That’s it. Think of a person. Think of something they would value. Send it to them, by post, email, or call them up to tell them.

 

Why do it?

 

1. Because that’s how you do business. To leave a positive mark on the world.

Yes, money is nice, it’s a good metric of success, but it’s not the only metric, and it’s unlikely that you’re going to succeed in the best possible way if that’s your only goal.

It’s a really lovely feeling to be at the receiving end of random acts of kindness and you can create that feeling for somebody today.

Also, this could be something that could make a big difference to their business and wouldn’t you like to be the person who orchestrated such a development? Think about a specific client you’re dealing with or a particular friend that you have or a positive situation that you find yourself in… Who, apart from you, was influential in making this happen? Imagine if they hadn’t made that effort….

2. When everything feels stale, when you’re only going through the motions and you’re afraid burnout is around the corner, doing something nice and helpful for somebody else is one of the best remedies!

3. Karma has an incredible way of returning the favour.

So think of somebody, and think of something that would be of value to them.

Find the repeatable steps. Trust that your success didn’t just fall out of the sky: you worked at it, so make sure you don’t forget the tiny steps that took you there. Then repeat those steps to achieve more success!

 

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5 things that my business could never have done without Wandsoft’s CRM solution

 

In order to run my business, I used to have to log on to, or remember to check, the following: a website editing platform; an online email marketing service; sundry spreadsheets on my computer, keeping track of: contacts; invoices issued (which were PDF versions of Word documents) and invoices outstanding; payments received… And that’s even before I had an online shop that needed to process payments. Most startups have few resources with which to actually begin and tend to buy various cost effective, or free, services as and when they need them.

 

I remember vividly the point where I really should have invested in the CRM: I was looking at a heap of business cards from 40 different networking events. There was this feeling of grim resolve at having to follow up individually with each of them. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to simply enter them into a kind of intelligent Rolodex and be able to send them a newsletter at regular intervals – all with a click of a button? Instead, I was stuck with a spreadsheet and having to copy-paste each individual email address whenever I wanted to get in touch.

 

Nowadays I only have the Wandsoft CRM. It has become my business dashboard, a one-stop shop that allows me to seamlessly integrate all the different facets of my business. The only way I can describe it is a paradigm change.

 

1. Our custom Wandsoft CRM allows us to house contact details in one place and to “slice and dice” the database according to interests and other criteria.

 

We can send relevant content at relevant times to our specific databases, via a custom-designed, professional-looking HTML newsletter, instead of having to painstakingly contact each person separately on LinkedIn, with the LinkedIn branding all over our message.

 

There is also a clear benefit to our contacts, too: once they opt in to receive communication from us, they can read it from the comfort of their own inbox, instead of having to log on to LinkedIn to read our newsletter.

 

And we get detailed email analytics reports on open and click-through rates: that’s an essential KPI in our business, helping us to uncover what our audience is truly interested in.

 

2. The Wandsoft CRM also allows us to manage the company finances better, more efficiently and with a lot more data.

 

It’s a wonderful package that enables us to automatically issue sales invoices directly from within the system, to control unpaid invoices and send automatic reminders when an invoice is outstanding.

 

With one click of a button, I can ask for a payments report, broken down according to payment terms (30 or 90 days). Again, one click of a button allows me to print out all the data that my accountant needs on one spreadsheet: sales invoices and their totals, it’s all there.

 

I used to have to manually generate invoices, putting in the name and address, changing the date, etc. With this system, I just click a button to choose between VAT-able and non VAT-able, I can add comments e.g. Purchase Order numbers, the dates of training or titles of programmes in a dedicated space if needed– and voilà!

 

3. The CRM is also integrated with our e-commerce platform (we use RealEx).

 

If somebody buys one of my books from our online shop, their credit card details are secure thanks to RealEx, and then our CRM seamlessly works with the RealEx platform, extracting contact details for delivery and editing receipts, without us having to do anything.

 

The process is very smooth: our CRM, upon receipt of the order information from RealEx, creates a professional branded dispatch note for each order, with the number of book copies ordered. I don’t even need to look at this, since the person who fulfills the order has access to the CRM. They can simply print out the order receipt, immediately know how many items they need to pack, and where to send them. Dispatching an order takes a few minutes, if even that.

 

Wandsoft’s tagline is “simplifying business”, and it has certainly done that for us. It’s all automated and out of my hands, leaving me free to concentrate on other business matters. If I was unavailable for six months for some reason and a thousand people bought the book, it would all run smoothly even in my absence.

 

4. If an online transaction is abandoned for some reason, the CRM lets me know about it.

 

If relevant I can reach out to the customer, to check whether they encountered a problem. I was recently able to call a customer (since their contact details are in the CRM), because the CRM sent me an alert that the transaction hadn’t proceeded.

 

It turns out the customer was asked for credit card verification, but couldn’t remember their 3D secure at the time. They still wanted to go forward with the purchase and I was able to process it on the phone.

 

Without the CRM, the order would have been lost.

 

5. Event management capability

 

The event management capability is one function that we haven’t had a need for yet in HayesCulleton. But back when I was an employee, my employer also used Wandsoft, and their event management interface is a marvel of simplicity. Create an event, and you can process registration and bookings in the same system.

 

The return makes the investment more than worth it. In other words, the question is not whether I can afford my Wandsoft CRM – but whether I can afford not to have it, and what would my business do without it.

 

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