13 To-Do Business Items for 2013

I love a good list! I have compiled 13 things that I believe –in some order– should be on your to-do list for the New Year.  Some of you may only need one or two while others may need the whole lot.  Take them and digest them as you need to and it is my challenge that on the other side of the year you create greatness.  Of course if you need help, I am available through the Brand Mapping program where we navigate your business or personal brand to fill any gaps, create new plans, or shift into some new territories.  I bid you a Happy New Year and hope that you find prosperity in areas beyond money!

1. Social Engagement: Yes, there are a minimum of 25 articles a week about social media; new developments within the platforms, and many experts/gurus sharing their advice/opinion on how to navigate them better.  However, through all of the muck I still believe businesses need to get back to the core basics of each platform 1) to engage 2) to listen to what customers, competitors, and general people are saying 3) to provide a snapshot of you and your business and 4) to tell your company story.  The beauty of the storytelling is that engagement can also happen offline, in social settings beyond social media.

2. Collaborations & Partner Programs: At the top of 2011 I vowed that working with others, in greater ways, was only the natural next step for my company. There is room for everyone and many times no two companies—even within the same industry—do the same thing.  I have a partner program that incorporates complementary businesses as well as those businesses who manage accounts that may need my services and I can supplement their efforts.  Create a partner program that fits your company culture, don’t be afraid to partner with larger companies that can subcontract to you OR send you business they cannot take.

3. Create products: As a business owner sometimes you can find that there is a large difference in the way people value products over services.  You may encounter a few that don’t find what you do as a service measurable or always tangible although there is limitless value.  So what is the solution? To capture a different audience, those who may not be ideal for ongoing services, create a product for them.  Consider this! You can be the product and a chunk of your time partnered with workbooks, slideshows, audio and/or video could be a product offering that many will find value in.  All you need is a shift in thinking about you as a brand.

4. Get certified with the government: In short, I am working on a project and I received an email kind of like this “…do you have any colleagues that are certified? We really want to do business with a minority/woman owned business…”  This email happens everyday across the city, state, country and many of us are not filling the gap.  My response was “I don’t believe I know anyone but will ask around.”  While the certification process can feel uneasy it is indeed quite simple.  Pick up the phone and call the supplier diversity departments, ask them everything you need to know—even the ‘dumb’ questions, and get certified.  Government checks don’t bounce and if/when they do then we are all in trouble.

5. Mind your own business:  Sounds self-explanatory but for so many it may not be.  The hardest thing to do is to look at others and wonder why you don’t have the same perceived success.  As I explain to clients we don’t know what resources (money) they are spending, how long they have been working at it, or what their objectives are.  We can go chasing after someone else’s business goals but our end result may be that we 1) never accomplish our own and 2) end up in the very place we wanted to stay away from.  The saying goes “the grass may be greener on the other side because they use a different type of manure!”  Plant and harvest your own grassy knoll and see how amazing (and much more sane) you will be.

6. Learn multiple skills within your industry: In this fast paced world you now need to know much more than how to work in your core field.  You also want to have a loose understanding and even how to implement some of the complementary skills in your industry.  As a PR professional I have made it my business to know how to operate a camera, record a voice over, some video and photo editing, slight coding, search engine optimization, and copywriting with the search engine’s in mind.  Be sure to find points in your business where you can add additional value and even where you can keep your clients in one place.

7. Write everything down: I made a huge mistake in my business last year and I failed to write down every single goal.  Of course I wrote down many of the major ones that would take several months to occur but it’s the smaller, weekly/monthly/quarterly goals that I missed.  I don’t mean your to-do list of checking emails, sending out sales material, prospect calls but I mean items that could vastly enhance your business but don’t take a whole year to complete. An example would be to record and upload an audio podcast once a month. While it is something that I may do naturally I don’t have “record 12 podcasts in 2012” written down to check it off the list.  At the end of the quarter or year it is gratifying to be able to see all that you have accomplished and celebrate it.  This will be helpful to review on the harder days of your business.  It will confirm you are doing the right thing and to keep pushing.  I now vow to write every single thought down so that I can track the progress consistently.

8. Rev up your customer service: people have many options for who they should and can do business with and the deciding factor usually lies within the customer’s experience.  Know that customer service may not be that “the customer is always right” but rather what am I going to do to make them feel better about the situation, regardless of the error.  While sometimes you can’t make someone happy there are a few steps to take before you throw in the towel.

9. Change your scenery:  Looking at the same wallpaper, photo in your desk, and arrangement of your office can be so uninspiring day in and out so I encourage you to move around a little.  That doesn’t mean that you don’t spend most of your day in your office but it might be helpful to work with a group of colleagues at a large roundtable in the conference room, meet up at the local coffee shop, or rent a desk or office for a day at the local incubator or collaborative working environment.  If you are stuck on a project or just need a different pace of working then get out of your own way and move from behind your own desk/space.

10. Network in the Right Places: many times we join organizations or attend networking events that feel comfortable to us.  We go to the meetings and speak to those we know the best and ignore everyone else.  Well, how in the world will people know that you exist and that your business is of value to them?  I went to an all female networking event and there was one man.  He and I made ourselves to each other and my first statement was “you are the smartest person in the room!” He had figured out that the business he was in primarily was a female service and that he would stand out in the room.  Find yourself being more strategic in the places you go, boards you sit on, organizations you join, and people you connect with.  I challenge you to talk to someone you don’t know, join organizations where you are the only one offering your service, and ask for personal connections from colleagues with people that you would like to do business with.

11. Peer to Peer Mentoring:  I speak to entrepreneurs, specifically women, all the time and the main concern I hear is that they have no one to truly support them.  I don’t mean a networking organization that provides blanket information or the ‘get into gear’ pep talks but the one-on-one conversations (with your personal board of directors) that can leave you close to tears.  I have been so fortunate to provide that to some colleagues but I am so grateful that I have a strong support system of women.  Get together and help each other with your pain points and dig into the crevices of the issue.  How do you know if you have the right person or group to do that with? You will probably leave your meetings overwhelmed at the work ahead of you but relieved that you have someone who supports you and shows you how to get it done.  Teach each other.

12. Systems: The constant thing about life is that it keeps going regardless of your gender, race, or socioeconomic status.  Because that is true it is important to have systems in place that allow for your business to run when life– sickness, death, divorce, school– happens. In 20 Tools for Entrepreneurs I mention Asana.com as a task management system that will allow you to outline every task that exists for your company to operate.  There are other systems like Basecamp or Zoho.com but whichever you use be sure to create the task and train others to use the system when life kicks in.

13. Give Back: Some of you may have heard me discuss “How to reach your greatest potential” and one of the first things I share is that the most successful or perceived successful people in the world care about others and give their time, talent, and resources for the benefit of others. It’s not because they have money or fame but rather because they use their influence to impact the community.  Many businesses and people who understand that being socially responsible is a part of their culture know that giving breeds getting—not of money or notoriety but getting to the core of why you were placed in the position you have been placed in.

Kia Jarmon is a Public Relations & Brand strategist with boutique public relations firm, The MEPR Agency (www.MEPRagency.com). She speaks, blogs, mentors, and is soon to be an author. You can find more information at her personal brand site, www.KiaJarmon.com

20 Business Tools for Entrepreneurs

One of the hardest parts of being in business is actually running (or working on) the business and one of the second hardest lessons is learning how to create systems that make running your business more effective.  I have compiled a list of 20 of my favorite apps, gadgets and tools that make my life, and more importantly my business, run smoother. While this isn’t an overwhelming list I think you will find a few tools to add to your toolkit.  Most of these items are free or minimal in cost outside of the large techie items.

  • Youtube—Have you ever noticed when you go to search something on google the video’s pop up first? Videos are ranked high on Google and can give your brand the opportunity to be seen as a thought leader on a particular subject.  Whether you are creating a painting or educating customers on the stock market video may be for you!

  • WordPress—Blogging is a great way to create great content for your brand and become Google-able, which is super important to your personal or professional brand.  Create your blog, outline the type of content you want to include on the site, create a list of key words and phrases so that you can be searched for, and don’t forget to add a catchy title.  After published it is important to share the blog among your social platforms for greater exposure.  Oh, and there are other blogging platforms…wordpress is my personal fave.

  • Google Docs/Drive—Have you ever lost hundreds of documents on your computer or on a thumb drive? Well, I have and it is not fun.  After your stomach sinks to your feet there is joy in knowing that maybe you backed up the back up.  Google docs, now known as Google drive, is a great clouding system and is great for everyone from solopreneurs to large teams who need to host and edit documents without the hassle of several emails back and forth.  It will save your business in an emergency and is a great system to back up the back up.

  • Google Voice—Efficient businesses create boundaries and balance.  An important element of your business is learning how to turn off, have business hours for customers and clients, and create a work/life balance.  One of the ways I have found to create such a life is by downloading and using a Google voice number.  It will receive its own voice messages and text.  Here is the secret: have the phone ring your number when a call comes in from that line and that way you know if it business or personal.  Your business and your life will thank you for creating a line in the sand. 

  • Ipad—While this is an expense for your business sometimes you have to weigh your best options which is either lugging around a heavy laptop that could break or working from a more travel friendly device that can serve as a mobile office?  I like the luxury of taking notes, recording meetings, and using the teleprompter app when necessary, but very rarely use them while in the office.  Any tablet would probably do but I suggest researching the capabilities to make sure it meets your businesses needs.

  • Physical Calendar—When I was younger my parents, my dad in particular, told me to write everything down. Of course, I didn’t because I thought it was such a task but boy oh boy do I understand why he would lean so hard on me about that. When I went full time in my PR business it was essential for me to see every single appointment, make notes while on a call, and map out the year all in one swoop.  My notebook-sized datebook keeps me on track more than most can imagine and I have only missed one appointment in two years (yay ME)!  I suggest going offline and going low tech for the most important area of your life…your time.

  • Idea Book: Second to my physical planner is my idea book.  I scribble, draft out plans for business, and create ways to take over my part of the world.  The most successful people I know walk around with pen and paper and guess what…it leads to a more successful business and life.  Some things just can’t be typed into your phone or tablet.  Write it down and visualize it better.

  • Bookmarks: I did not quite understand how valuable internet bookmarks could be to my business and efficiency but if you are like me you just can’t read every site you come across.  When I find a site that I like and need to reference more than once I immediately bookmark it. But there is one more step that I think can help; be sure to create lists that assign the bookmark to a specific folder.  Here are some folders to get you started: For Business, Personal, Accounting, Time Saving, Balanced Business, Social Media Advice, etc.

  • Thunderbird: Have 5 different email accounts to check? Thunderbird is a great cross-platform email system that will allow you to import all of your addresses into one place.  You can easily switch back and forth between emails and keep track of everything email related in once place.  You can import your address book and there are several other plugins you can use to ensure your success within this system.

  • Wisestamp: Speaking of Thunderbird plug-in’s Wisestamp.com gives you an opportunity to streamline your email signature and include social links.  This is a super easy plugin and can be used within other platforms outside of thunderbird as well.

  • 1and1.com: Need a url and host for your website?  I own about 10 sites and they are all hosted on 1and1.  From time to time they have great deals where you can register a new site for 99 cents for the first year and it goes to about $10 bucks for the next year.  I have called and emailed the support team several times and have yet to have an issue.  Will I have an issue one day? Maybe! But for now it really works for my clients and I and I suggest at least looking into it for your sites.

  • Asana.com: Need a task manager? Of course you do! The best way to run your business is with the thought that if you are sick the business can run itself.  Well not necessarily run itself but help someone else to step in and run the business for you.  This free system can be synced with your phone and computer and creates an online timeline of every step in a task.  There are two great ways to use this system.  1) as you develop systems inyour company create a task list for it so that if you ever step out a virtual assistant, intern, or contract employee can implement.  And another great way is to 2) outline tasks for a new project so that multiple people can be working and updating at the same time.  This works great with Google Drive and items can be checked off upon completion. No matter where you are in the country you can see that business is still running smoothly.

  • Spreaker.com: People receive information on multiple platforms.  Have some great news to share and want to make it easily accessible?  Create a podcast so that those who like listen at work, in the car, or while washing dishes can tune in with minimal interruption to their work flow.  This is, again, a great way to position yourself as a thought leader; but of course the information needs to be good.

  • Slideshare.com: Yet another way to increase your expert profile is to offer your presentations on slideshare for view or download.  If you optimize them correctly (use appropriate tags and create an engaging headline) you will find that you receive many views of your presentations.  You can also use the description box to include your contact information so that you can be called on to present the presentation to other audiences outside of your network.

  • Skype: I have found that relationships work best when they are built around the trust that comes from looking into another person’s face.  While I don’t use it all the time, Skype is a great tool to access when necessary. I also have found that it works well for a group of people as well…but hey you can use a Google Hangout too.

  • Paymo Widget: Do you manage multiple projects for clients? Whether you charge by the hour or by project it is good to account for your hours to see where you are spending your time.  This widget allows you to “clock in and out” essentially and assign the time to a client and creates an invoice.  This might help you better outline your contracts and forecast future work.

  • Smartphone: Your phone is an on the go extension of your business so it needs to update along with the rest of your tools.  You can find a reasonably priced phone so that you can incorporate some helpful apps and tools to make your out of the office systems just as compatible as in the office.

  • Square: Whether you are in a product or service based industry you should be able to take money on the spot.  After all you never know when someone needs to pay you!  There are several programs that are easy to set up and efficient for business transactions.  It costs you nothing to request the square card reader, they charge a small fee on each transaction, you can give receipts for cash, and you receive your money each night.  How simple and super efficient is that?

  • Dropbox: Need to share a large document or folder?  Dropbox is the best thing since sliced bread to receive and share large files without having to host them on your own server.  I encourage you to use this site and to encourage those who you are working with to do the same. You can work directly through the site or download it to your desktop and drag and drop items for an instantaneous upload.

  • FreeConferenceCall: Need to host a one-on-one or group call and record the content?  This is great for listening back to what was shared during the meeting or to host a large group of people on a secure line versus a cell phone.

Whew! That was a lot.  While there are many more tools and apps to add to your toolbox this is a great start for you as you make your way through the end of the year.  Any tools that have worked for you?  Please share below!

Kia Jarmon is a brand strategist and PR coach with boutique public relations firm, The MEPR Agency (www.MEPRagency.com). She speaks, blogs,mentors, and is soon to be an author. You can find more information at her personal brand site, www.KiaJarmon.com