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10 Ways to Maximize Your Home Office for Productivity

By smallbiztrends, Guest Blogger
Published: March 6, 2014

If you run one of the 14+ million home-based small businesses in the United States, congratulations. You’ve got lower overhead, a shorter commute and the opportunity to be more productive than your office-based competitors.

 

Still, working from home isn’t all eating peanut butter out of the jar and wearing your fuzzy slippers. There are plenty of pitfalls that can distract you from getting your work done. Here we look at 10 ways to ensure you’re set up for success in your home office.

 

1. Carve Out a Workspace

 

Not every entrepreneur is fortunate enough to have a spare room to turn into an office. That’s okay. You can use part of a room separated by a curtain or even a closet. The point here is to ensure you have a dedicated space that is only for work.

 

2. Set Up Your Day

 

The more routines you have, the more you’ll get done. If you have small children at home with you while you work, plan to work when they nap or when they’re quiet; otherwise you won’t be productive. Plan out your work hours; they don’t have to be 9 to 5, but they should be fairly consistent. Also, consider your attire. Some people love working in pajamas or sweats. Other people (like me) get more done by getting dressed in “business casual” – for some reason getting dressed to be seen by the world makes me feel more professional, even if it’s just me.  

 

3. Figure Out When You Work Best

 

Part of those routines you need to set up involve determining when you’re most productive. Some people are night owls, and some are early birds. Some need quiet time without phones and instant messages, so getting up early avoids that. You might need complete quiet in your home office. Whatever your needs, don’t fight against them.

 

4. Have an Ergonomic Set Up

 

You need a comfortable chair with good back support, a decent computer monitor you can easily see and a keyboard at the right height to avoid awkward pressure on arms and wrists. Don’t forget your eyes. Your computer should be at the right distance to see without strain; if necessary, see your eye doctor for “computer glasses” that are made for viewing a computer properly. Two monitors also can help productivity (less time spent jumping between applications), so if you can afford an extra monitor, by all means try it out.

 

5. Use Smart Tools

 

There are so many free or affordable software programs and apps for small businesses! Find the ones that help you do more. A few options:

 

6. Remove Distractions

It can be tempting to fold the laundry that’s in the middle of the floor, but pretend you’re at an office and ignore it. It’s important to designate certain hours for work, and certain hours for home life. Occasionally, it’s fine to take a break and run an errand, but don’t let it encourage you to procrastinate on a project.

 

7. Get Out of the House

 

Many people can’t bear being alone all the time in their home offices. Fortunately, we’ve become a mobile society, and you’ll always see plenty of people at your local coffee shop working on their laptops. Get a change of environment. Try working from a park or restaurant, if you can be productive there.

 

8. Find Support in Person or Online

 

It can be nice to meet other home-based entrepreneurs too. Find a local meetup of people like you or a local event where you can share your stories and find support in your small business endeavors. If you spend any time on Twitter or other social media sites, you’ll find plenty of folks who, like you, are working out of their homes. #HomeBiz is a great hashtag to follow to find content and conversations geared toward people like you.

 

9. Keep Learning

 

Find as many opportunities as you can to develop your business and industry knowledge. This can come in the form of online webinars, Twitter chats, in-person conferences, seminars, books, blogs and magazines.

 

10. Meet Regularly With Staff

If you have employees who also work from their homes, make a point to meet once a week or month so you reap the benefits of face-to-face time. While it’s completely possible to work virtually, nothing can make up for that in-person relationship-building time.

About the Author:

smallbiztrends
Anita Campbell

Guest Blogger

My name is Anita Campbell. I run online communities and information websites reaching over 6 million small business owners, stakeholders and entrepreneurs annually, including Small Business Trends, a daily publication about small business issues, and BizSugar.com, a small business social media site.

When and Why Should You Stick to the Plan?

By Tim Berry, Guest Blogger
Published: February 24, 2014

There was a time, a few decades ago, when I thought sticking to the plan was a good for business. “Because that’s the plan” seemed like a good thing. But I’ve changed my mind.wall and ladder istock.com

Having a plan is absolutely a good thing. And sticking to the planning process — which means regularly checking results, evaluating progress, and revising a plan — is absolutely a good thing too. But sticking to a plan? Just because it’s supposedly something people do? No.

Years ago, I was one of four friends taking a two-week road trip in Europe. We were young, single and having fun. Three of us were fairly flexible about things, so if we liked one spot we’d want to stay there longer; if we didn’t like another, we’d want to take off early. But the fourth always wanted to stick to the plan. And that was such a pain. We’d made the plan before we left, and our trip meant learning. I remember the arguments: he’d say “but we have a plan” and we’d say “but when we made the plan we didn’t know what we do now.”

Fast forward to today and the first thing we can all see is that business time frames have changed. Business moves faster than it used to. And the business landscape has changed too. There’s still a lot of consolidation at the top, and those huge enterprises need to manage longer-term plans in order to be able to steer. But there’s also huge fragmentation at the bottom, too, with more than 20 million U.S. companies having no employees, and six or so small businesses, and they move faster. They have to.

So assumptions change very quickly. And that, to my mind, is the key to managing a business plan and keeping it useful.

First, do a plan that has concrete specifics you can track. Include not just the obvious numbers for sales, costs, and expenses, but also other manageable numbers like web traffic, visits, leads, presentations, calls, downloads, likes, mentions, updates, and whatever else drives your business.

Second, set a regular schedule for reviewing plan vs. actual results. Have a monthly task to look at progress and identify problems.

Third, learn to distinguish problems of execution from changed assumptions. If assumptions have changed, then the plan should change. If assumptions still hold true, then the difference between plan and actual results is a matter of execution. React to surprises according to what direction they go and what cause and effect you see. Usually, unexpectedly good results are a good reason to look at shifting resources towards the positive; unexpectedly bad results are a good reason to shift resources to correct a problem.

And that’s what I call the good side of sticking to a plan: have a plan, review it regularly, and revise it as needed. It’s way easier to correct your course if you have a plan than if you’re just reacting to whatever happened yesterday. 

(Image courtesy of stockphoto.com)

About the Author:

Tim Berry
Tim Berry

Guest Blogger

Founder and Chairman of Palo Alto Software and bplans.com, on twitter as Timberry, blogging at timberry.bplans.com. His collected posts are at blog.timberry.com. Stanford MBA. Married 46 years, father of 5. Author of business plan software Business Plan Pro and www.liveplan.com and books including his latest, 'Lean Business Planning,' 2015, Motivational Press. Contents of that book are available for web browsing free at leanplan.com .

Celebrating Your Small Business Accomplishments

By kmurray, Contributor and Moderator
Published: February 19, 2014

Have you celebrated your small business’ accomplishments lately? In a few weeks, we’ll be tuning in to watch the Oscars – the Academy Awards – an occasion that acknowledges the finest achievements in the film industry in the last year. If you haven’t had the chance to step back and celebrate what you’ve achieved, here are a few ways this popular event can inspire you.

From the movie business to small business…

The Oscars feature categories that award many aspects of films – from the costumes that each filmgoer can easily see to the “behind-the-scenes” work that may not be as apparent to viewers once a film hits theatres. The same can go for your small business.

Think about the parts of your business, for instance, that are readily apparent to customers – like your website or store displays; then there are those elements that are just as crucial to success – like HR or the finance department – that may operate in a “behind-the-scenes” fashion.

And the award goes to…

Here are a few ideas about translating popular award categories to your business.

  • Best Supporting Actress/Actor – Acknowledge your team and the roles they’ve had in helping the business achieve success and reach goals. Maybe there was one project that stands out where someone went above and beyond what was required. Or perhaps another employee took on a task that didn’t involve his primary skillset, but he stepped up and got it done. These are great supporting actors to have – and they should be celebrated!
  • Best Foreign Language Film – Language is tough – even when you’re speaking the same one! Take this award as a chance to make note of achievements when your business faced communication challenges, either internal or with a customer, and overcame them. Misunderstood client made happy? Tension among a project team mediated? Translating those challenges into successes and learning opportunities is a great accomplishment.
  • Best Visual Effects – Did your agency deliver some stunning creative pieces to a client? Did your landscaping business create yard art from a formerly dead patch of grass? Think back to what you’ve made possible over the last year thanks to your and your team’s creativity and vision.
  • Best Costume Design – Costumes are extensions of characters, conveying who they are with a unique look and feel, accessories, etc. Similarly, your storefront or website does the same for your business – a visual representation of what your business is. Have you had a favorite window display over the year that attracted a lot of customers? Did you redesign your website or freshen it up? Here’s your chance to really make note.
  • Best Picture – Ah! The coveted Best Picture Award ultimately celebrates how well everyone collaborated – from directors, producers, writers, actors – to produce the best possible product. Take a look at the big picture of your business. How well do you think you fared? How well did your team come together to deliver and succeed? Did you connect with your target audience as you hoped? It’s a great opportunity to reflect on a job well done, so congratulations!

“I’d like to thank the Academy…”

Well, you probably don’t – but thank the people who’ve made your business successes possible by celebrating some of these achievements and acknowledgements with them. Maybe you can make an evening out of it, which could also be a great team-building occasion. If not, a spirited email or presentation over morning coffee can help you get your message across and jazz people up. After all, you’re celebrating not only a great year that’s just gone by – but a bright future built on a solid foundation of success.

About the Author:

kmurray
Katie Murray

Contributor and Moderator

I am an author and moderator for the the SBA.gov Community. I'll share useful information for your entrepreneurial endeavors and help point you in the right direction to find other resources for your small business needs. Thanks for joining our online community here at SBA.gov!

Developing a Content Marketing Strategy

By smallbiztrends, Guest Blogger
Published: February 13, 2014

While some of online marketing is trendy and will inevitably fade away, there’s no disputing that content marketing is here to stay. If you’ve heard this buzzword, but aren’t really clear on what it includes, that’s probably because its definition is expanding as marketers find new ways to provide content to their audience.

In general, content marketing includes:

  • Blogs

  • Videos

  • Infographics

  • Whitepapers/Ebooks

How to Get More Readers (and Thereby Customers)

 

The point of content marketing is to attract new potential customers to your site. You’re providing useful information to them (in whatever format you choose), and ultimately, you’re working to build trust. Once they feel they can trust you, that relationship moves into the sales funnel.

 

But first you want to get as many readers or viewers of your content as possible, since they won’t all buy from you. Here’s how.

 

Share Content on Social Media

 

Each blog post, video, infographic or ebook you create should be trumpeted through your social network. And not just once! Schedule several updates -- across all channels -- encouraging your followers to click to view the content you have created. Ask your followers to also share the update with their followers to reach a wider audience.

 

So what’s the ideal number of times to share? There is none. Just be mindful of your audience, and don’t alienate them by posting multiple updates every day begging them to read your content. A few times a week is a good place to start.

 

Post Content to Bookmarking Sites

 

For many people, social bookmarking sites like Stumbleupon and BizSugar are where they get their content. The benefit of doing so is that the content has already been vetted, so to speak. The most popular content has the most votes, so a quick skim through the top links should net the best content.

 

For you, social bookmarking sites offer fabulous opportunity to connect to readers you wouldn’t otherwise have found. The more places you can pick up new readers, the more customers you’ll get.

 

Set Up an RSS Feed

 

It needs to be stupidly simple for visitors to your blog to easily get updates every time you post a new article. That’s where RSS feeds come into play. When a visitor signs up to get your blog updates, she can either read them in an RSS feeder with her other favorite blogs, or get your updates via email. That way, she doesn’t have to remember to check back on your blog for new content.

 

Set Up a Success Measurement Plan

 

All this hard work in developing and sharing your content will be for naught if you don’t measure results! Paying attention to how many visitors you’re attracting with your content can help you know if you’re doing a good enough job in marketing and sharing that content. And knowing which topics people are reading or viewing the most can help you generate future content ideas.

 

Google Analytics is the easiest tool to provide data on all of this. Plus, it’s free to use. With Analytics, you can also look at traffic over time and make sure it’s steadily rising the way you want it to. You can also look at conversions, if you sell products online. In other words: is the traffic that’s arriving on your blog converting into paying customers? If not, you should analyze your site to determine the disconnect.

 

These days, it's not enough to throw blog content out into cyberspace. You need a plan for your content marketing strategy so you draw in the right people with your content and turn them into loyal customers.

About the Author:

smallbiztrends
Anita Campbell

Guest Blogger

My name is Anita Campbell. I run online communities and information websites reaching over 6 million small business owners, stakeholders and entrepreneurs annually, including Small Business Trends, a daily publication about small business issues, and BizSugar.com, a small business social media site.

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