Early to bed, early to rise…

“Early to bed, early to rise makes a [wo]man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” – Ben Franklin

This is the phrase that repeatedly ran through my mind as I scrambled around at 4:45am this morning, getting a toddler ready, and rushing out the door to deliver my husband to the airport.  When I pulled back into the driveway of our home at 7:45am, it occurred to me that that phrase is quite true.  Wouldn’t it be great to get a head start every day?  Surely it would, but I’m definitely not up to 4:45am every day… I just don’t have the stamina!

When I made the transition from corporate-employed to self-employed, there were a lot of things that didn’t readily translate… the need to get up even earlier than I did when heading to a hotel everyday was one of those items.  No matter if you’ve been telecommuting for years or you’re just making the transition, I thought it would be good to discuss some key “tools” or “habits” that can make or break you.

  1. Get up an hour earlier.  This gives you extra time to read your LinkedIn posts, The Business Journal or local paper, general e-mails, etc. and still hit the ground running.
  2. CRM.  You need a system in place to record your activities:  client calls, notes from appointments, follow-up tasks, billing, etc.  Zoho.com offers free CRM for up to 3 users.  I use Zoho for managing client databases, but I use MS Outlook and OneNote to handle my business.  For MAC or iPad/iPhone users, Evernote is a great tool.
  3. E-mail system.  I use MS Outlook, but Mozilla Thunderbird is free and works just like MS Outlook.  I use Thunderbird to manage the e-mail accounts assigned to me by my various clients.  With 5 e-mail accounts to manage it’s easy to go into Thunderbird and have access to all of them in one spot.
  4. Business Phone.  Thankfully my mobile phone works just fine for this purpose, but if you’re going to handle phone calls for your clients and want to be able to answer specific to their business, you may want to consider Google Voice which also offers a free application.
  5. Forms.  At the very least you need to have a procedures and policies one-sheet or brochure so that clients know what to expect and how you operate.  Developing one will also give you a moment to really think about the nuts and bolts of your business.  I would also recommend a contract, especially for project-based work.
  6. Current software.  If you’re still on MS Office 2003, it’s time to upgrade.  Check out MS365For a low monthly fee you can have the latest MS Office Suite on your computer as well as have access to it virtually.  Plus, you can share documents and store documents on the MS Cloud.
  7. Business Expenses.  Start tracking business expenses and revenues right away – DON’T WAIT!  Quickbooks or Quicken are probably your best bets, but even an excel spreadsheet is better than nothing.  Some common tax deductions include: mileage, office supplies, internet services, mobile phone charges, and membership fees.  Check with your tax expert for more deductions.
  8. Payment.  You need to have a way to accept payments.  I use PayPal.  Mostly because the 3% transaction fee is affordable, it allows me to accept credit cards, and I am able to receive monies directly to my account easily.  In today’s economy you may or may not want to accept checks for payment unless you know the client or have a history with them.  Another item to consider is pre-payment or advance deposits – will you require these or have clients pay after the fact?

This is just a general list and it definitely just begins to skim the tip of the iceberg.  When I worked for a company, most of these items were already in place for me as a director/manager; I didn’t have to give much thought to them.  However, when I moved into running my own business, it was a completely different ballgame and I wasn’t completely prepared when my first client rolled through the “doors”.  As my business grows, I continue to learn and evolve my systems because everything is a work in progress and we can always tweak things and make improvements… much like making the commitment to get up an hour earlier; something I plan to start doing right away!

I’d love to hear what you’ve discovered on your path and hope you will post it to the comments section of this blog.  As a community we have a vast well of knowledge to share and I hope you will help me fill the proverbial bucket!

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“To Blog or not To Blog?”

As a consultant for many small businesses, I’m often asked for advice on ways to improve a business visibility on the web.  Most of the standard advice still holds true, if you’re familiar with search engine optimization from years ago: make sure your keywords are appropriate, choose concise and appropriate tags to describe your site to search engines, and have as many business partners linking to your site as possible.  
All of these strategies help, but one of the most effective tools for getting your site recognized and ranked by search engines today is the blog. A blog is short for “Web Log”, a site that is dedicated to displaying regular entries, or “posts,” of commentary, observations, descriptions of events, or even multimedia such as pictures and videos, geared towards an audience of the author’s choosing.  Think of it almost as a journal or diary that can touch on any number of topics, from personal to professional.  
 
So, is a blog right for you?  The answer depends on a number of factors. 
 
If you’re considering creating and writing for a blog, consider these 6 things before taking the plunge:
  1. Select and focus your topic – There are many blogs out there for which each post is simply a stream of consciousness piece by the author.  This may be a great way for you to keep in touch with your buddies, but if you’re using your blog as a tool to draw people to your site and look at what your business has to offer, your commentary should reflect something relevant to the topic you’ve chosen.  If you’re a recruiter, for example, one week you could write about common mistakes you see in resumes, and the next week you could write about the latest hot job.  Focusing on a topic that you know about will enrich not only your writing experience but also your visitor’s reading experience.
  2. Write, write, write – Writing a blog takes time.  Make sure that before you delve in, you’ve allotted the time for at least one post per week. Consistency is important to both your readers and search engines, and while an occasional slip is fine, not updating for weeks on end can have a serious impact on the number of people visiting your site.  A perfect recent example is something that happened on my blog.  For a period of about a year, I’d been updating my blog twice a week on Tuesdays and Fridays with new posts on various trends and news in the Pharmaceutical industry.  My readership reached 700 visitors a month, up from an average of 70 visitors per month when I started.  In the 2 months I stopped my blog, I lost about 300 visits from my average.  The lesson?  Keep it up.
  3. Write well – To write a blog is not enough.  Being able to engage your users with well-written copy will keep them coming back, and you should be as efficient as you can be with your works.  Blog entries should not be feature articles or white papers on your industry.  They should get right to the point and provide food for thought in the end — if you’re lucky, someone may even post a response to something you write.
  4. Add pictures – A blog can’t be all words — I’m guilty of this myself — so add some pictures and other media to your blog to make it more visually appealing to your audience.  It doesn’t have to be much, maybe even just one picture per post, but it will make a difference in terms of what stories appeal to your visitors.
  5. Set up your blog on YOUR site – A common mistake when setting up a blog is to do so on a generic blogging site like WordPress, Blogger.com, or the like. These blogs are great for personal use, because they cost nothing to the blogger. However, for businesses, it makes more sense to install a blog package on your own site so that it’s part of your domain.  If your blog eventually becomes really popular, search engines like Google and Yahoo will reward your effort by making your site more popular overall, not just your blog.  This, in turn, will increase your ranking in the non-paid search results for those search engines.
  6. Promote your blog – Once you’ve established a pattern where you’re writing regularly and have got a couple of articles under your belt, have people link in to your blog via the social media tools that are available out there.  Facebook, del.icio.us and Digg are all great bookmarking tools that will tell your friends about your blog and validate it as a good source of reading material.  Also look for opportunities to have others link to you; for example, if you run a nutrition blog, see if one or more local gyms will link to your site from their site(s).  Finally, be sure to have a link to what’s called an RSS (Real Simple Server) set up on your blog so that people can be alerted whenever your blog is updated.

Blogs can be a great opportunity to garner interest in your company and improve communications with your existing customers.  But a blog, like anything worthwhile, takes time and care in order to be an effective marketing tool.  Before delving in, make sure you have at least 2 hours per week to make a high-quality entry, and spend an additional 2 hours per week promoting the site.  With the right promotional strategy and good content, the visitors will come.

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Introducing the author of this article Mariano DiFabio a partner at Avelient, Inc., a web development company based in New York, NY.  Mariano has over 18 years of experience in the technology sector, with a recent focus on helping small businesses build solid web foundations appropriate for their company.  Mariano uses our Concierge Services for his business and personal needs.
If you’d like more information about Mariano go to: http://www.avelient.com, or send him an email at: mariano.difabio@avelient.com.
Mariano’s blog, which focuses on trends and news in the Biotechnology, Pharmaceutical and Personal Health Industries, can be found at: http://bpblog.avelient.com