Until recently I would pop into my desk diary what I would like to work on during my day. It could be working on documents for a client, a bit of marketing and some website and social media tasks. Initially this worked for me as I felt my way around the industry and steadily grew my online presence.
There comes a point, however, where you find this loose form of working ceases to be beneficial. I found myself inefficient, less likely to complete tasks and becoming quite poor at prioritising work. I decided to change to a timed and scheduled workload, just as I would as an employee. I now prioritise my work and give myself a specific amount of time to complete that task.
Working from home is the epitome of flexibility, but this can easily descend into an excuse to procrastinate and make excuses. Declare your opening hours to everyone and commit to those hours. Make sure you are available in the designated hours you publicly committed to and that your work phone is on and with you at all working times. You are human and emergencies and illnesses can arise. If you are indisposed or sick, delegate work where you can or simply post on your work forums you are off work and when you will return, just as you would if you were employed elsewhere.
You have an ultimate goal in business, and you have stepping stones in place showing how to get there. Monitor your progress and ensure you are on track. In the beginning you will be quite general, but there is a time to get specific about how your business is, and should be, performing.
Monitor your specific business income and expenditure in a database. There are many accounting programs to help you keep track of your business finances, but to begin with a simple database will do. It won’t look pretty, but grit your teeth and faithfully show what is coming in and what is going out. Monitoring your finances will show if you are growing, stagnating or shrinking. Don’t be alarmed, the first year or two will be like this. However, a visual chart documenting your financial journey will indicate problems before they arise and give you time to take action.
With social media forums you will most likely be measuring overall likes and follows. I recommend going back to each of the social media platforms your business is online with and check for more in-depth analytics available to you. You may find there is more information monitoring how many people who read your blog clicked through to your website, which kind of blogs drew the bigger audience and maximise your appeal and where you tend to meet the followers who turned into clients. Build a database and log your information. Trends can be more readily identified in a visual context. For a great article about how to interpret collected data for business use, I would recommend reading https://americaneditor.wordpress.com/ Don’t just collect likes and follows to boost your pride, learn how to make the data work for you!
I have touched on this a few times before, as I cannot say enough how important constant marketing is to your small business. However, today I am talking about ideas you think is just for Big Business (Did I just hear you say ‘proper businesses’?) Get that right out of your head, because this is for you too.
SEO I will pop in here as an honourable mention. Please do read one of my earlier blogs on this brilliant topic. However, have you thought of Real Time Advertising? Use holiday seasons and sporting events to your advantage, running campaigns to coincide with them, making you topical and relevant. You could have events and run online coupons with offers and discounts on your products and services. Whatever your marketing campaign is for the month, remember to keep politically neutral and socially responsible and fair.
Training and Testing
In regular employment, an employee is often afforded the chance to train in a specific field to advance their skills and secure a future in a company, so why should you be any different? I have a list of awards and qualifications I would like to train for and achieve that would further my self-employed career and add to my current skill set, not to mention my professional confidence. Take some time out and study your chosen industry. Find out if there are online courses that would benefit your career, as well as those that would benefit your running of the business. You could have a list of industry related courses to take, but equally courses in accounting, project management and marketing would be very worthwhile achieving. There are a number of ways you can receive help with this. You may be entitled to a government grant or perhaps you would prefer crowd funding to support you. There are also great videos on the HMRC website teaching you accounting and other practical skills.
Similarly, don’t rely on your skills and qualifications to do your job. Make sure your skills are actually up to scratch regularly. There are often industry related skill tests you can take online (such as the above mentioned HMRC resources). If you are a registered member of a society or guild, you may have access to skills testing on their website. Build and solidify your skills and make sure you are tippety top!
Collaborations and Networking
You don’t have to go it alone just because you are self-employed. Big companies will often collaborate with other brands or team up with a related business. For example, as a proofreader, I find it a wonderful experience to forge close business relationships with editors, translators, students, novelists, teachers and indexers. I am not in direct competition with these fields, but they are mutually beneficial. Recommendations and collaborations can often come from such connections. So remember, don’t just collect likes and followers, build meaningful networks and communities, it will serve you better in the long run.
Networking can be difficult and intimidating. If you are just starting out, look out for free or affordable networking options, such as http://letsnetwork.biz/ Find your local meeting place and go along! It’s usually a tiny little fiver and a nice chat with tea and biscuits. I will be going to my first one next month, and I will blog about my experience for your derision and delight!
You are going to curse me, but I would recommend keeping a little bit of time once a week outside of your normal working hours. I pick an hour or two on a Saturday morning to pick up those tasks, or unfinished work I didn’t get round to. Tie up loose ends, handle mail you intended to send or respond to and make sure your business is backed up and safe. I tend to do this every day, but sometimes life gets in the way and you forget. Get everything tied up and secured, then turn off your phone, close the office door and enjoy your weekend!